Over Labor Day weekend, Hillary Clinton endorsed a brand-new website called Verrit.
The “65.8 million” there refers to the number of people who voted for Clinton in the 2016 elections. Verrit promises to publish “rigorously verified” information and analysis, tailored to that specific audience.
Instead of news articles or original reporting, the site appears to currently focus on putting other people’s quotes and statistics into shareable social cards. Each “card” has an authentication number, which is supposed to be an innovative way of preventing the site’s format from being spoofed to spread fake news.
And after an hour of watching multiple Twitter filter bubbles mock, discuss and meme Verrit on Monday, I still had no clue what it was supposed to be.
The one good tweet I got in response called Verrit “Snopes for hashtag the resistance,” a jokey way to refer to the favorite hashtag of Verrit’s stated target audience. Okay, so Verrit was a fact-checking site, focusing on Hillary Clinton voters. I was more than happy to leave Verrit at that.
But my editor saw my tweet, and 20 minutes later, I was assigned to explain Verrit. Oh well.
What is Verrit?
Let’s start with how Verrit describes itself. This is an excerpt from the introduction posted on Verrit’s website:
With the essence of American democracy at stake, 65.8 million people saw through the lies and smears and made a wise, patriotic choice. But they continue to be marginalized and harassed. Verrit’s purpose is to become their trusted source of political information and analysis; to provide them (and anyone like-minded) sanctuary in a chaotic media environment; to center their shared principles; and to do so with an unwavering commitment to truth and facts.
So Verrit is: 1) a response to the great “fake news” explosion of late 2016 and all of 2017; and 2) a news site for those who voted for Clinton in a previous election.
Its founder, Peter Daou, advised Clinton when she ran for president in 2008. He’s done a couple of interviews about Verrit, in which he discusses it sort of like a fact-checking site. He told Recode that Verrit was supposed to be a repository of “information you can take out to social media when you’re having debates on key issues people are discussing,” with the “you” being those who (you guessed it) supported Clinton in 2016. In a Business Insider interview, Daou said, “we want to do something where we rigorously vet these facts and we actually stand by our research and put an authentication code on every fact that we put up.”
What is Verrit really?
My very best and most charitable guess, based on Daou’s interviews and its own social media presence, is that Verrit is supposed to be something that’s useful for Clinton supporters who like to argue online about politics. From its early presence, it appears that Verrit finds and repackages talking points and statistics, and puts them into a more shareable format. If you visit the Verrit page for each social media card, it contains a short bit of commentary (sometimes signed by Daou), and links to other relevant tweets, articles and images. The current social cards on Verrit’s main site contain everything from DACA-related statistics to talking points on who to blame for Clinton’s loss:
If this is the case, then Verrit’s weird authentication codes make a little bit more sense, in theory. If Verrit were something people would actually use while being Mad Online about current events, it would follow that others might want to spoof its format to troll Clinton supporters into sharing fake news. Just before the election, for instance, a bunch of trolls got the hashtag #draftourdaughters trending, claimed it was a Clinton campaign initiative, and faked a bunch of Clinton campaign-style images for it to share with the hashtag.
In that light, if you know what the heck the “authentication code” listed on each social card means, it would be an easy way to search and see whether that Verrit “fact” you’re seeing has really passed through their vetting system or not. The question is, whether anyone casually coming across a Verrit fact on Twitter would know what Verrit is, or understand what they’re supposed to do with the code, before they made a decision about whether to share it or not. It’s kind of like expecting everyone on the Internet to read and understand the rules to a board game that most of them don’t want to play.
And there’s another issue here: Verrit isn’t really checking facts so much as it is picking and packaging them for its intended audience.
Why is Verrit?
Here’s what Daou told Business Insider: “When you lose a shared reality, where the definition of a fact is in question there’s no longer the possibility of civil dialogue anymore. If the person you’re arguing with says, ‘I’m not going to concede that a fact is even a fact,’ you’ve got nothing left.”
That sounds good, but it doesn’t really match what Verrit has done so far. If the issue is that we, as a society, no longer agree on what facts are, then how is a website explicitly for Clinton supporters, providing facts and analysis for them that align exactly with what they already believe, going to help to solve it?
Daou also gave another explanation on Twitter, as the site received a round of mockery after Clinton’s endorsement:
So, Verrit is: 1) going to solve our sad march away from civil dialogue online; and also, 2) it’s to dab on his haters. Daou has talked a lot about goal number 2 on Twitter in recent days:
Who wants Verrit?
Well, Clinton does, for one, if her tweet is to be believed. Verrit has also said that tens of thousands of people have signed up for the site after Clinton’s endorsement.
There are also a lot of people who don’t want Verrit. On Sunday, Verrit announced that it believed the site was the subject of a DDOS attack and had trouble staying online for hours after that. And a bunch of people made fun of it online.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of people still don’t seem to know what Verrit is, or why the Internet needs it. I’m here to tell you: That’s fine.