Defending independence in the age of deep spin

If you know anything about the latest State of the Union Address, you know that after Donald Trump had handed Nancy Pelosi his speech as if she were his secretary when she held out her hand to him to shake hands, Pelosi tore up his speech. Didn’t look particularly well-judged politically to do that to me but there you go. What would I know?

Trump operatives have now released the video (above) of Pelosi tearing up his speech spliced interleaved with Trump’s comments praising heroes like aged soldiers. Facebook have agreed to take down the video as obviously misleading.

(Only kidding. Facebook wasn’t interested in getting in the way of its profits). On the other hand, Twitter has said that the Tweet violates policy that will be enforced when they’re ready to do so on March 2.

I can imagine it’s a scary call for Twitter to say so to the Gangster in chief. Rage will ensue and Donald Trump has a lot of power including the power of his mob. In those circumstances if I were Twitter, I’d be wanting to distance myself from this process, whilst having a decent approach.

I’d do it with a standing citizens’ assembly. If I were Twitter I’d recruit a demonstrably objective selection of ordinary American citizens using the same kinds of methods we use to recruit juries (in which I’d include random selection and representative random selection of various kinds.)

I’d then pay them to meet and deliberate on the question of what policies Twitter should adopt to be consistent with Twitter enhancing democratic deliberation whilst minimising the extent to which it harmed it. Then Twitter would have something to say to the various sides of politics who would inevitably accuse it of bias. It isn’t being biased – it has a process of integrity for determining the considered opinion of the public on this matter.

That process consists of

  1. the consideration of specific cases
  2. the deduction of policies and rules from those cases
  3. the application of those policies and rules by Twitter
  4. constant rinsing and repeating.

I expect the citizens’ assembly should be turned over relatively frequently, say every six months. But I’d also like to see the development of a cadre of the best of past citizens’ assemblies chosen in a non-competitive way, to help develop the ‘culture’ of the body as ‘elders’. The greater autonomy the body acquired through this mechanism, the more successful it would be in achieving its objectives of protecting the public – and protecting Twitter from accusations of bias.

I think this kind of thing may offer the last best hope for independence to be nurtured and protected in many other circumstances – for instance in public agencies. Existing mechanisms for nurturing independence (say of the public service from their political masters) or for ensuring ethical behaviour (as with ethics committees) are demonstrably failing. But I’ll defend that proposition on another occasion.

This entry was posted in Cultural Critique, Democracy, Information, IT and Internet, Media, Sortition and citizens’ juries. Bookmark the permalink.
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paul frijters
paul frijters
4 years ago

the basic observation behind these “ask the public” arguments is that we now trust the average member of the public more than a politician or senior civil servant, or really anyone who is rich or powerful. That used to be very different. You would not have thought that in, say, 1880 or 1960. But we think it now. We used to be societies where the general population were regarded as morons and the elite was partly benevolent, partly self-serving. Now we think the general population is decent, run on all sides by crooks.

4 years ago

In 1880 or 1960 there actually were politicians who contested contested reality, but there were a tiny minority. A series of southern governors in the US, for example, clearly thought they were living in Gone with the Wind. What’s different now?

There is a Greeks v Romans debate on Youtube with Boris for the Greeks and Mary Beard for the Romans. Boris constructs an elaborate argument that Greek literary characters are all rebels and Roman literary characters all submit to authority. He talks at some length about the scene in the Aeneid where Aeneas leaves Dido to go and found Rome as instructed by the gods and how feeble it is compared with the great scenes in Homer.

Beard reads a description of the same scene which calls it one of the greatest love scenes in all literature. She stops reading and asks: ‘Who wrote this, Boris?’.

Now I am fairly sure anyone writing at Troppo would be mortified at being exposed in this way, but Boris just says he was making a different argument when he wrote it.

Moz in Oz
Moz in Oz
4 years ago

How would the geographical divisions work – do you envisage a rotating location, one per area, or would there be one world policy body (presumably with twitter provided real-time translation to enable a random jury to discuss the proposed policies)? It would be hard enough just getting two US citizens to agree, but the fun of getting (say) a non English speaking Kurdish Turk into the same policy space as a Jewish Scot would be immense. Then getting the Saudi government to accept that policy would be a whole different level of fun.

Now imagine the case is the banning of images showing female breasts…

Moderation is hard, moderation at scale impossible as the saying goes.