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Newsletter – May 2021


Thanks to those that provided feedback following last month’s email and welcome to all of our new subscribers. We now have over sixty people on our distribution, I have begun posting documents on my website, and have posted information about this work on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

A reminder that this is a never-ending journey and I am in the very early stages of this marathon. I truly welcome help, advice, etc. along the way as I have very much to learn. Specific areas where I’d love input or help include newsletter format, website optimization, networking contacts, and editorial review.

The vision and principles that I have articulated reflect an enormous effort. I obviously can only work on and/or impact a small part of it. So my general approach is to seize on opportunities as they present themselves with the idea of helping where I can, informing where I can, and leading where I can.

I want to share a couple of themes from the last month. Hopefully you find this information useful and informative.


Quality of Legislation

(applicable to the problem solving, expert input, and commitment to excellence principles that I’ve articulated on my website)

Much of my career was spent analyzing problems and implementing solutions designed to address identified root causes. I don’t believe that federal legislation proposed by either party for police reform, gun control, or election security/voting rights will provide sustainable solutions or meaningful improvement. This month, I paid particular attention to police reform and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Although increased accountability for “bad actors” is an important consideration, the fact that the problem has occurred in many regions throughout the country in a diverse set of municipalities, points to this being a systems and process based problem.

I’ve posted a document on my website that provides additional details, including the suggestion that just as healthcare has learned from other industries where failures have extremely catastrophic consequences, law enforcement can learn from healthcare! I have reached out regarding this concept to good government organizations, to my representatives in the House and Senate, and to the lead negotiators that are trying to craft a bipartisan compromise.

Also during this month I was fortunate to have a very informative conversation with leaders of Issue One. Issue One bills itself as the leading cross-partisan political reform group in Washington, D.C. They are working to “unite Republicans, Democrats, and independents in the movement to fix our broken political system and build a democracy that works for everyone.” I encourage all Speak Up for Good Government subscribers to review and sign their declaration. Last Thursday, I attended Issue One’s first in a series of webinars on Reimagining Democracy; and have a call this week with their Fix Congress Cohort Coordinator, who is working actively with the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.

The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress is a bipartisan committee that was established in 2019 and was re-commissioned this year. They have some outstanding recommendations, but I don’t see anything on their website about quality of legislation. I would love to influence the scope of their work to include “modernization” of the legislative process (i.e. quality of legislation). This will be a key component of my conversation with Issue One’s Fix Congress Cohort Coordinator.

Fact Checking

(applicable to availability of accurate and unbiased information principle)

I was very fortunate to attend PolitiFact’s “United Facts of America — A Festival of Fact-Checking” (four day webinar) and found it incredibly useful and informative. There are a number of outstanding fact checking organizations and there are an increasing number of individuals that are becoming proficient at fact checking, In addition, there are learning materials that are readily available to help everyone become proficient at fact checking. We all have a responsibility to check the validity of information we see and read rather than taking it at face value.

Although all of us need to “check the facts”. The process is not easy, and very few of us have the time and patience to do it on a consistent basis. My high school taught Consumer Education to help us avoid scams and become better consumers. “Consumer Education in the Social media Age” should be offered in all schools and should include fact checking as part of the curriculum.

Most of us have a tough time avoiding confirmation bias (gravitating toward information and news sources that reinforce our beliefs and opinions). There is active debate on the role that social media providers like Facebook have in policing the information posted on their platforms and active debate about the responsibility social media providers have for fact checking the posted information. Specifically there is much debate on revising section 230 which grants social media providers (with some notable exceptions), broad immunity on liability for the information posted on their platforms. Facebook employs machine learning technology to identify posts that need to be flagged or fact checked. They are constantly working to improve these capabilities. This is an important development, but at the PolitiFact Festival leaders from top journalism institutions noted that Facebook has typically been much too reactive in this space and could do much more to flag and fact check blatantly false or dangerous posts. It should also be noted that my understanding is that fact-checkers on Facebook cannot check political speech.

I have engaged in some spirited discussion on this topic. I look at Facebook and other social media platforms as somewhere between facilitators of communication (similar to a phone company) and news publishers (with many posts being akin to news reports from amateur journalists). I don’t think it’s fair or practical to hold Facebook and other social media platforms liable for the millions of posts on their sites, but I do think they should have some responsibility related to a subset of posts (authors with very large followings, items that are going viral, etc.). That responsibility could be as simple as a flag that prompts users to check the facts on their own, or prominent caution statements regarding the accuracy of selected posts that meet the criteria for fact checking. This already occurs to some extent, particularly when fact-checked posts are shared by Facebook users.

Facebook’s “advisory board”, while upholding the current ban on Donald Trump’s posts, indicated that the current ban is not sustainable. I would argue that selective censoring is problematic, and active and prominent fact checking would be more effective and be more in line with Freedom of Speech protections.

Much more to come on this topic.

Here are some links to materials from the PolitiFact conference:

Day 1 – Overview and importance of fact checking, criticism of fact checkers, interview of Gabriel Sterling, a Republican Georgia elections official who fact-checked Trump’s false allegations about the integrity of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia

Day 2 – COVID-19 misinformation, interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci

Day 3 – Fact checking by social media companies and efforts to amend Section 230, interview with Senator Mark Warner

Day 4 – Truth and objectivity in journalism, interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour

Here’s some information on section 230:

Section 230 Business Insider summary (sorry about the ads you have to wade through)

I anticipate next month’s newsletter to be significantly shorter, as I will be embarking on some much anticipated travel.

Still in the queue for future months:

  1. Additional details on timeline and objectives

  2. Refinement and further articulation of the basic principles that can be found on my web site

  3. Further exploration of metrics and a possible survey

Take care and have a great month!

Allan


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