If you own a television or computer you’ve likely been a victim of super PAC ads. Often making ridiculous and over the top claims about some candidate or political issue, these advertisements are made worse by the ambiguity of the PAC’s names. Two of my (least) favorite are “Americans For America” and “We Love USA PAC”. The banality of the names are intentional. The groups want you to gloss over the funding source of the ad and believe that they are made by some random group of concerned citizens who, motivated only by the kindness of their hearts, have decided to inform the public of some grave injustice that needs to be brought to the forefront of the American consciousness.
In reality these ads are most often financed by extremely rich and powerful people with a vested interested in swaying the public to believe (or not believe) some particular thing at any and all costs. Think big oil groups blasting alternative energy, opposing political parties smearing one another with out of context quotes and lies, or just rich people who will do whatever it takes to stay rich.
Due to a loophole in the federal election laws, we may never know exactly who is responsible for which super PAC ads. Until (or if) this loophole is closed, the next best thing to a legislative solution is Ad Hawk. Ad Hawk is a free IPhone and Android app for anyone who wants to be aware of what groups are responsible for the propaganda you see and hear every day.
Like the app Shazam, which can tell what artist sings a particular song by listening to a portion of it, Ad Hawk works by having the user push the “Identify This Ad” button during a political commercial. After the app listens to a sufficient amount, you are given information on what group placed the ad, the group or person’s mission statement, media reports about the group or person, informative websites where you can learn more, and whatever else public information is available. Essentially, the app does all of your research for you.
Ad Hawk was created by a non-profit group called the Sunlight Foundation, who are dedicated to transparency in government. Their stated goals are as follows:
We want to catalyze greater government transparency by engaging individual citizens and communities — technologists, policy wonks, open government advocates and ordinary citizens –- demanding policies that will enable all of us to hold government accountable. Sunlight develops and encourages new government policies to make it more open and transparent, facilitates searchable, sortable and machine readable databases, builds tools and websites to enable easy access to information, fosters distributed research projects as a community building tool, engages in advocacy for 21st century laws to require that government make data available in real time and trains thousands of journalists and citizens in using data and the web to watchdog Washington.
There are quite a few other digital projects the group has created too, all of which are focused on digital solutions to political obfuscation. Check them all out on their projects page.