Filters and trust

Truth-O-MeterAs we get exposed to more and more information online, two elements assume great importance – filtering in the things we want to see; and verifying those things so we trust our filtered-in information along with the purveyors of it.

The former is easier done than the latter: there are apps, algorithms and all manner of technical tools to help you filter in what you want and, thus, filter out what you don’t.

Trust is a very tricky thing. Subjective, emotive and based largely on the things people say to one another, no one has yet come up with a method of automating trust that is convincing, reliable and, well, trusted.

Could PundiFact and the Truth-O-Meter be an answer? According to the US newspaper the Tampa Bay Times, yes, it could.

[…] The new site will have a dedicated staff of journalists who will research claims by media figures and rate them using PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter. The fact-checks will be published on PunditFact.com and will often be featured on the main PolitiFact site.

[…] “Pundits on TV and radio, as well as bloggers and columnists, are prominent voices in our political discourse, yet sometimes they blur the lines between opinion and fact,” said Neil Brown, editor and vice president of the Times. “Now we will hold them accountable, much as we’ve done with politicians.”

PolitiFact does have a track record of rating American politicians and what they say, presenting ratings in a way that you can, at a glance, see how particular public voices stack up on a truth scale. At least, according to PolitiFact.

trueorfalse

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark is quoted in the Tampa Bay Times story with a resonating appeal:

I just want news I can trust, and PunditFact is a real contribution in the direction of trustworthiness and accountability.

The bold’s my emphasis.

Maybe that’s the way to see this idea as one that’s “in the direction of trustworthiness and accountability.” That sounds realistic.

I’d love to see a PunditFact for the UK!

Related posts:

A simple solution for EDF Energy’s marketing problem

EDFSo EDF Energy has told its customers it can only recommend lower cost gas and electricity tariffs on annual bills if they “opt in” to receive advertising material.

Reading the report in today’s Telegraph, I was pretty sure that EDF Energy’s intention surely couldn’t be a cop-out to telling customers about better energy deals. That is, to not tell them.

But the Telegraph goes on to say:

EDF last night said the Data Protection Act meant it was unable to pro-actively tell customers about cheaper deals. It said the clause was only supposed to effect customers coming to the end of fixed-price contracts.

And quoting a spokeswoman:

“If a customers has opted out of ‘marketing,’ Data Protection Act rules mean we cannot highlight the cheapest deals within the letter informing them of the closure.”

I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me as though the Department of Common Sense at EDF Energy has closed down.

It seems to me that the Data Protection Act is also about consent: if you consent to a company doing certain things with your personal information, then isn’t that part of opting in?

Here’s a suggestion, EDF Energy.

How about a specific page on the EDF Energy website inviting customers to opt in to receiving information about cheaper deals? Or enabling customers to indicate that they’d like to receive information by email or in the post – or whatever needs to be said to comply with data protection and privacy laws – specifically about tariffs, prices and cheaper deals?

The invitation to opt in could say something like this:

[ ] Yes, I’d like to receive marketing emails or letters from you that will inform me of the choices I have in choosing an energy tariff at the best price. You promise that my opt-in to such communication will only be for this purpose: you will not spam me forever more with useless direct-marketing crap unrelated to choosing an energy tariff at the best price.

Okay, the final part of that last sentence probably wouldn’t make it. But I don’t see why EDF Energy can’t simply offer customers such an invitation to opt in to receiving “marketing” communication where it’s explained very clearly what it will include.

I bet they would get a huge take-up. You might even see some buzz building online showing EDF Energy in a good light about their common-sense approach to a thorny issue of rising energy prices and the negative opinions about energy companies that has got politicians all exercised and has even led to letters being written.

This isn’t a public issue: I’ve not seen any media reports about it other than in the Telegraph. A tweet or two here and there.

But such things have a habit of suddenly becoming a major issue and before you know it, you’re all over the media  – mainstream and social – for all the worst reasons. You might consider the Telegraph’s story as an early alert, an opportunity for EDF to address the matter before it evolves.

Proactive communication, EDF Energy, surely a simple solution that offers a big benefit. The customer relationship advantage could be significant.

Not to mention public relations.

Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day

Amid the conflict, awful tragedy and human suffering constantly occupying centre stage in mainstream media reporting about the Middle East, one man tries to explain the relationship complexities of, among, between, within and without key countries, states and individuals;  and countries outside the region.

A short guide to the Middle East (photo)

Financial Times reader K.N. Al-Sabah writes a letter to the editor of the FT on August 22 to offer a short guide to the Middle East.

That’s the snapshot view on the day Mr Al-Sabah wrote his guide. It seems to me that solving Rubik’s Cube or finding a cure for cancer would be a breeze in comparison to truly understanding the landscape of conflict in the Middle East.

(Via BuzzFeed Politics)

Too much FUD and too little facts about fracking

Fracking equipment

If there’s one major issue of significant public interest today that’s shrouded in fear, uncertainty and doubt, it’s fracking.

If you believe the supporters of this mining process to extract natural gas and petroleum deposits from shale rock – formally known as “hydraulic fracturing” – it could be the salvation of our energy needs for the foreseeable future, maybe for the next forty years or more.

If you believe the opponents of fracking, it’s a major threat to the environment and to public health, causes earth tremors if not actual quakes and is not the answer to meeting our energy needs.

In the midst of all this FUD are governments looking for that political and economic Holy Grail of meeting energy needs that is low cost to do so, will create jobs, stimulate the economy and doesn’t have significant environmental impact, among other things. And might get the political party in government re-elected at the next election.

Who to believe? When trying to find some facts about fracking itself and the consequences of employing the techniques to extract the energy resources from the ground, what confidence can you have that the information you do find is trustworthy? Or rather, those who curate that content can be trusted?

For instance:

A few reports from the mainstream media (plus opinion in one blog post). But is it all just so much propaganda?

Seeing TV news reports of the recent protests surrounding the Balcombe site in southern England and the plans by Cuadrilla, an oil and gas exploration and production company, to carry out exploratory drilling to determine suitability of the site for actual fracking, I’m left befuddled and not knowing who to believe.

Even though the Balcombe protests look far too organized to be purely concerned local citizens – to me, it smacks of professional protesters parachuted in, so to speak, by a serious and well-financed organization, one with a big political agenda and little transparency in who’s behind it all – I’m also left with increasing alarm:  what if the anti-frackers are right?

Now take a look at this video I came across the other day, via Robert Llewellyn. I have no idea who the producer “Millie Thedog” is, what axe he or she may be grinding (or not), nor whether he or she is an information source I can trust. I have no information on that.

Yet this six-minute video presents a calm but disturbing assessment of the alleged impact of fracking in southern England if it actually happens, especially on the scale the video claims.

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

After watching the video for the first time, I asked myself: “Just because we could, does it mean that we should?”

Where’s the truth? Is it out there?

(Image at top of page via Cuadrilla Resources)

This story about PR qualifies for ‘must read’

Alastair CampbellEvery now and again, something is written or said about the practice of public relations, its development and evolution, usually with the phrase “this is a must read” attached.

In my experience, much of what’s described as “must read” is anything but, especially when the words “social media” are added; it’s just spin for the PR.

Now and again, though, something is written that you really must read for its clarity of thought, its intellectual excellence, its demonstration of innovation in strategic thinking, its simplicity in and clarity of that thinking, and its powerful insight.

Alastair Campbell has written such an item, published today in The Huffington Post.

In “Why the World of PR Is Changing,” Campbell – most widely known as the communications chief at 10 Downing Street during Tony Blair‘s tenure there – tells a compelling story about a topic that has occupied thousands of column inches and millions of pixels height and width, taking as its foundational introduction a difficulty he encountered in planning a trip to Australia and how it was resolved in a conversation via Twitter:

[…] the PR landscape, like the media landscape, has changed beyond all recognition, and that public affairs now covers any interaction between any two people or organisations. That exchange was between me, my phone, and a guy on the other side of the world who saw a relevant Aussie address come up, and who got a grip. No journos, no PRs, no marketeers, just someone with a sense of the product – in this case one person’s feeling for Australia – and an understanding it was worth stepping in. The product, large or small, is what will decide the strength or weakness of the PR. Strategy, to me, has always been about the joining up of dots to paint a picture in the public mind as close to the one you want them to see. @sandihlogan landed a dot on my Aussie landscape that erased the negative dots my application had been landing.

And the stark simplicity of this, reflecting on an interview he did with former US president Bill Clinton around the time his autobiography came out:

[…] Objective, Strategy, Tactics had always been No. 1 on the list of 10 guidelines for leadership and strategy that I had on a postcard I always carried with me.

  1. OST.
  2. Be bold.
  3. Be adaptable.
  4. Best team leaders are best team players.
  5. Stay calm in a crisis.
  6. Listen but lead.
  7. Get good out of bad.
  8. YOU set the agenda.
  9. Head above parapet.
  10. Visualise the victory.

These are but two insightful snips from  a lengthy post that in my book qualifies as “must read.”

Do read Campbell’s full story that, The Huffington Post notes, is from a speech he gave at the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs Annual Oration on June 27 in Melbourne, Australia.

It could be a terrific start point for making your own stories “must read.”

Number 10 hands out Twitter exclusives to favoured journalists

UK Prime Minister

A discussion topic in episode 701 of the FIR podcast, published today, looks at a question asked in the Metro newspaper last week: should British politicians take notes from Barack Obama’s campaign team?

The Metro’s excellent report looked at the key role social media played  – especially Twitter – in both of the US president’s election campaigns in 2008 and 2012 in enabling direct engagement with reporters and opinion-makers as well as with voters in communities across the United States (see detailed analysis of 2012 from Pew’s Journalism. org).

The discussion that guest co-host Stephen Waddington and I had in the podcast considered key elements of Obama’s campaign as described in the Metro story by Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon. Her conclusion:

[…] Summing up the lessons of 2008 and 2012, Ms O’Malley Dillon said: ‘If there’s anything to be learned from our campaign, it’s that we made it a priority, we believed in it from the top to the bottom, we ensured the resources were there and we allowed it to help dictate for us in some ways the type of things we were doing based on how people use these forums.

‘We weren’t trying to recreate the wheel, we were trying to be part of the dialogue and I think that’s one of the many ways we were able to be successful.’

Keeping that in mind, Wadds and I broadly concluded in  our discussion that a) yes, British politicians would benefit from studying the role of social media in US election campaigning; and b) there’s little to suggest that they are or have done so – certainly at a central-government level that seems isolated from grassroots ‘social politics’ – even though the next general election in the UK is only two years away at most.

So The Guardian’s report yesterday on the role of Twitter in how Downing Street aims to secure goodwill from journalists by revealing news before its official announcement by ministers had me thinking about what looks like a chasm of a difference in how American politicians see social media channels like Twitter and how UK ones do.

There, it looks more open and inclusive. Here, it seems to be secretive, selective and controlled.

That’s a great pity if it does turn out to be how my cynical view of the political communication landscape appears. The way in which social media channels can galvanize political engagement with and by those who have the final word on who gets elected, as evidenced by the US experience, clearly is firmly understood by government communicators:

[…] “We’re getting to where people are these days,” said Anthony Simon, the head of digital communications in the prime minister’s office.

“Increasing numbers of people are on Twitter – journalists, stakeholders and professional groups – and to be part of that conversation is vital for any government department. It’s democratic because it’s open to anyone and we don’t go on it for the sake of it or over-rely on it – it’s a means to an end.”

I hope that the ‘means to an end’ becomes a great deal more honest- and authentic-looking than the current situation that The Guardian describes.

(The Guardian’s report below is published with their permission via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.)


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Number 10 hands out Twitter exclusives to favoured journalists” was written by Josh Halliday, for The Guardian on Sunday 28th April 2013 21.07 Europe/London

Asked in 2009 why he didn’t use Twitter, David Cameron famously responded “too many twits might make a twat” . Four years later, Number 10 is attempting to move more rapidly into the digital future with a Twitter strategy that includes handing out “Twitter exclusives” to favoured journalists for release before they are officially announced by ministers.

In a tactic reminiscent of the BBC satire The Thick of It, Twitter is also being used to try to quash negative stories before they gain currency in a news cycle where every second counts.

“Every minute that passes the poison is spreading into the system to all sorts of roots and you need to find a way to cauterize that very, very quickly,” said a senior No 10 source.

The Twitter exclusives aim to secure goodwill from journalists who are often under pressure to break news online before rivals, but will irritate those who believe announcements should be made in parliament.

Many of Downing Street’s new media strategies were introduced by Craig Oliver, the prime minister’s communications director, who insisted on moving a Twitter monitor into the No 10 newsroom when he assumed his role in January 2011.

According to colleagues, Oliver likes to describe the social network as similar to fire: a useful tool in the right hands, but massively destructive if it is misused.

The analogy might leave some scratching their heads, but Cameron’s inner circle wants all his MPs to take Twitter seriously – even if the 2015 general election is, in internet time, light years away.

One example of using Twitter to “seal” a negative story came after the Evening Standard mistakenly broke George Osborne’s budget embargo on the social network last month. A mortified journalist promised to tweet a swift apology but Oliver ordered a pre-emptive tweet from the Tory press office account, to ensure the reporter’s promise was met.

Conservative party headquarters brief MPs on good talking points for Twitter, using them to “tweet as a muscular force” about a single topic or news item to hammer home the message. Some 418 MPs have joined the tweeting fray, according to the news wire Tweetminster, up from 176 in 2009.

“Twitter used to be seen as tool for the egocentric and verbally incontinent,” said a senior No 10 source. “But the reality is that it’s an extraordinarily useful way of getting talking points out there.”

Downing Street has not always been so fleet of foot – it took hours to respond to the online mockery prompted by Osborne’s first-class train ticket debacle last October – but Cameron’s inner circle now recognises that the case for a clear Twitter strategy is “unanswerable”.

“We’re getting to where people are these days,” said Anthony Simon, the head of digital communications in the prime minister’s office.

“Increasing numbers of people are on Twitter – journalists, stakeholders and professional groups – and to be part of that conversation is vital for any government department. It’s democratic because it’s open to anyone and we don’t go on it for the sake of it or over-rely on it – it’s a means to an end.”

The most popular tweet sent by the government was Cameron’s tribute to Baroness Thatcher, prompting 3,500 retweets. The most divisive was when No 10 tweeted every single reshuffle appointment last September, which led to a mass unfollowing from less devoted users but praise from politicos.

But the jury is out on whether the rest of Britain is as Twitter-addicted as the Westminster Village. “I think the majority of activity comes from a fairly small group and most MPs have fairly small audiences,” said Alberto Nardelli, the founder of the app Tweetminster, pointing out that 1.2m people follow MPs on the site – about the same size audience combined as Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

“I think we’ve gone beyond a ‘should politicians use Twitter?’ phase. It’s now how will it be used,” he added.

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