Thursday, August 23, 2012

New 'Super PAC App' tries to separate fact from fiction, in political ads

A new mobile app, released Wednesday, is designed to emulate Shazam and SoundHound, which allow users to hold their devices up to a speaker to "listen to" and identify the song title and artist. The app, dubbed "Super PAC App,” does the same things for political ads.

Created by Jennifer Hollett and Dan Siegel, it is the product of a class project at MIT’s Media Lab.  Although focused on ads, it is ad-free and was funded by a Knights Foundation grant.

Virtually all ads, nowadays, end up on YouTube eventually, and the Super PAC App pulls ads from YouTube the minute they are uploaded, according to Siegel. Depending on the data supplied by the organization to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), the information the app has to work with might be limited, though.

"Our data can only be as good as the [FEC] requires organizations to share their data,” Siegel added. “We’re plugged into the FEC firehose. When it’s streaming water, we’re getting it. But when it’s not, there’s not much we can do.”

"Super PAC App" uses audio recognition technology to identify political ads, then provides users with details about the ad, such as what campaign or organization created it, its cost and how accurate the claims made in the ad actually are. Users can also rate the ads with a variety of responses, including “love,” “fair,” “fishy” and “fail.”

Hollett said, “The goal is to get regular people using this app - not just journalists and policy wonks, but regular people using it because it’s informative and fun to use. It’s easy to forget the presidential election is about regular people. We’re hoping our app changes that.”

There's another reason they created the app.  Siegel told CNN,  "Because of the Citizens United decision, that Supreme Court decision, super PACs (political action committees) can exist. And what it means is that anyone who's willing and able to write a check can have a voice in this election. And by anyone, that is a union, that is an individual, that is a company. And they can do so to an unlimited degree."

The app is only available on iOS. The pair doesn't mention Android, but does say they are considering a desktop browser-based version.

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