Main Street One was built to counter disinformation and fight the information war online. Founder and CEO Curtis Hougland believes that progressives must play offense in order to restore balance to the Internet. Hougland had experimented with different tech-enabled mechanisms to do so through working with Google, Facebook, and Microsoft to counter ISIL propaganda and with the federal government to combat Russian disinformation campaigns.
The Main Street One team fell into place as Curtis saw the application for his work in politics. He met Main Street One’s Digital Director, Ryan Davis, through collaborating on education reform; and Richard Panter, CTO, across several government initiatives. Together, the team has developed a scalable, machine-learning platform that directly challenges the political right’s weaponization of the Internet.
How does it work? Main Street One tracks false narratives and their online impact, develops authentic, ideologically combative, and wholly accurate content backed up by analytics, and then disseminates this content out to its network of 3.5 million influencers who subsequently sway the online discourse. Most importantly, Main Street One acknowledges that disinformation is a human problem amplified by technology, and its platform studies real-life actors to determine the best types of responsive content to expose bots and blatant falsehoods. Through stressing the human element of persuasion and content creation, Main Street One aims to identify the most compelling means for helping voters cut past the noise of misinformation.
“There is no reason we can’t create a [digital] army that is dedicated to progressive values,” Curtis said. “It is the implicit emotional things that move voters — I can tell you about gun violence all day, or I can show you pictures of what happened in El Paso.”
With the help of retired four-star general Stanley McChrystal, one of Main Street One’s board members, Curtis and his team hopes to inspire the creation of a nonpartisan, non-governmental Fair Digital Election Commission, that “protects the integrity of our elections by detecting, exposing, evaluating, and remediating the impact of disinformation.” According to General McChrystal’s recent Op-ed in Politico, the commission would amplify Main Street One’s research by publicizing notable instances of fake news and demonstrating the subsequent impact.
Main Street One works with campaigns, advocacy organizations, and companies to manage relevant online discourses — including the Brady Campaign, Johnson & Johnson, Mercedes Benz, and the Child Mind Institute. The team plans to support campaigns around the country in 2020, especially in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia. Curtis explains that we “can’t fix the health of our democracy without repairing the state of our discourse online,” and he hopes that through building the online and offline networks necessary to effect change, Main Street One can tackle one of the greatest existential challenges of our time.