New Media Models for Civic Engagement: From Marconi to Snapchat
Articles,  Blog

New Media Models for Civic Engagement: From Marconi to Snapchat


Good evening and welcome to the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum. My name is Isabel Lilles and I’m one of the Ath Fellows this year. Technology has completely revolutionized the way we live our lives, including the way we learn about and participate in politics. When DACA was repealed, I read multiple discussions and debates about it on my Facebook feed. When Hurricane Harvey hit, I saw pictures and videos posted on Instagram in which people were enlisting their followers to help those affected by the hurricane. The other day, I heard one student say to another, “Should I reply to this presidential statement?” referring to the 140-character tweet Donald Trump had posted that morning. But even with all this information literally at our fingertips, our political knowledge and civic participation has decreased. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is look through my SnapChat stories, when, before I had a smartphone, I would read the newspapers my parents placed on the breakfast table. I see students scroll past the news about Syria and Venezuela, to watch videos on the Kardashians or dogs dressed as Game of Thrones characters. I have friends that tell me that they block or remove people from their social media channels because they have an opposing political opinion. We have so much information and power in our hands. But for one reason or another, be it ignorance or indifference, we often choose not to use it. Our speaker tonight will explain how we came to this and will outline the ways we can use new media models to work toward a more aware and engaged society. Tracy Westen is a public interest attorney who founded and served as a chief executive officer of the Center for Governmental Studies, which aims to help individuals participate more effectively in their communities and governments by giving voters more access to candidates and politicians through media. He created the California Commission on Campaign Finance, the California Citizens Budget Commission and California Citizens Commission on Higher Education. He built award-winning model websites to enhance civic education, including The Democracy Network, Video Voter, California Channel, Digital Democracy and PolicyArchive.org. Tracy Westen was a deputy director for consumer protection at the Federal Trade Commission and legal assistant to an FCC commissioner. He has also taught communications law and policy at USC’s Annenberg School and at the UCLA School of Law, and has co-authored 10 books on campaign finance, ballot initiatives and judicial and media reform. Mr. Westen’s Athenaeum presentation is co-sponsored by the Rose Institute of State and Local Government. As always, I must remind you that audio and visual recording are strictly prohibited. Please silence and put away your mobile devices at this time. Please join me in welcoming Tracy Westen to the Ath. (audience applauds) Thanks, Isabel. It’s a great pleasure to be here. As you know, may know, I was a Pomona graduate, so coming back to the campus is always kind of a thrill and it certainly has changed, I must say. In fact, one of the changes was, this used to be Claremont Men’s College. So I figure that’s progress. I want to talk about media and democracy, how one affects the other. What’s wrong with both and what we might be able to do about it. Democracy is an interactive form of government involving millions of daily communications between citizens and candidates and elected officials. In fact, you can say democracy is all communication. And yet, today we’re confronting, I think, one of the most significant changes in modern communication since the printing press. The shift from one-way electronic communications, radio, television, cable, satellites and so forth, to two-way, interactive forms of social media and news. That’s a very powerful, dramatic change. And these are affecting our political system as well. (clears throat) Excuse me. One could easily conclude that the rapid growth of interactive social media, allowing everyone to communicate with everyone else, would dovetail perfectly with a growth in civic participation and engagement in the political system. Yet, oddly, the opposite seems to be happening. The American public today has the lowest level of trust toward elected officials and political institutions in the last half a century. And the public seems more and more distrustful of news and the news media, or should I say fake news and the fake news media, than at any time in recent history. What’s happened? Are the two, new media and government, related? And can we reverse this trend using the media to improve civic engagement and rebuild trust in governmental institutions? If so, how? Well, predicting the future is difficult. I’ve always like Yogi Berra’s comment, “If you don’t know where you’re going, “when you get there you’ll be lost.” So, let’s try, at least, to see where we might be going. I’m gonna take you, very briefly, through the history of civic engagement, and the communications revolution and then talk about how we can use media to possibly improve the governmental process. In fact, I’ve spent a large part of my career on this issue. So I’m gonna share some personal stories with you as well. Let’s start with civic engagement, which, obviously, is essential to democracy. You lose that and you end up with autocracy. There are many parts in civic engagement, but let’s talk, primarily, about voting and engagement with elected officials. Volunteering, writing, casting a ballot and so forth. First question is, how does a voter vote? What’s expected of a voter? And that, itself, has changed in really interesting ways over the last 200 years. Michael Schudson at UCSD has come up with three categories which I think are useful, so I’ll use them. The first type of voter conduct, around the revolutionary period, founding of the Constitution and so forth, might be called social trust. In colonial Virginia, where George Washington and Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson learned their politics, voters had to be white males and property owners. Voting was mandatory. Didn’t know that. And there were substantial fines for not voting, although they were rarely imposed. So I guess there was some laxity there. The journey to the polls usually took a long time. Hours, sometimes a whole day. There might have been just one polling place in the county. People would often spend the night before the vote. They go to a ball, a supper. Liquor was plentiful. Apparently, in 1758, it was estimated that George Washington provided a quart-and-a-half of liquor to all the voters the night before. In the morning, the voter would go to the courthouse and, in front of it, was standing the sheriff, who would enforce order and count the votes, and all the candidates. You’d walk up to the sheriff, announce your vote in a loud voice so everybody could hear, and then you’d shake the hand of the candidate you voted for. What was this? It was kind of a ritual of public solidarity. It was like a Boy Scout meeting in which you’re electing a chairman for the evening, or a chairperson. And you know everybody, and you’re all sitting around, so how about Jane? How about Joe? Who should, uh, well, we’ll elect you president. It’s all done publicly. It’s all done openly. How are people voting? What was the role of information in this vote? None. There was no discussion of issues. You were expected to be an informed citizen, able to recognize virtue in candidates and shun vice. You probably knew them. You weren’t expected to evaluate public issues or see what they thought about them. That was what the representatives were for, the people you were electing. You picked esteemed leaders on the basis of sound character, good family, good reputation. George Washington thought political clubs and organizations were dangerous, irresponsible and threats to civil order. These were groups where people discussed issues and said what they thought elected officials ought to do. He thought they were dangerous, why? Citizens were supposed to pick honorable and virtuous officials and let them do their job, to deliberate, choose the best laws. How could citizens know what the issues were? They weren’t exposed to the pros and cons of debates. They didn’t have to pour their way over the merits of issues. So, to try and have citizens advise elected officials how to vote on issues was presumptuous and even dangerous. It might lead to mobocracy. That was the view towards original voters. Once in office, elected officials would do that work. Analyze issues, debate them. That was their expertise, not that of the voter. So when James Madison said quote, “People who mean to be their own governors, “must arm themselves with the power “which knowledge gives,” he meant social knowledge, not issues knowledge. The second stage of voting was in the middle of the 19th century and it might be called the age of endorsements. At least we call it that today. In the mid 19th century, the population had exploded. People didn’t know everyone. They didn’t who the candidates were. Political parties and organizations had grown. They would get out the vote. Voters would go to the polls and political parties or organizations would hand you your ballot, pre-marked. If you wanted a Democratic ballot, you would pick up a Democratic ballot and put it in the box. You didn’t have to look at it. Some of you couldn’t even read. You weren’t literate. You didn’t have to be literate. And political parties would hand out patronage and pick candidates and run things. So you weren’t voting for better public policies. You were voting for patronage, sort of good fellowship, and you didn’t know much about what the issues were anyway. Does that make sense? Well, think about wine, just as an example. I had a friend in Napa Valley, who, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, who was a winemaker, said, “You know, there was a time when I could taste “every wine of the Napa vintage.” He says, “Now there too, there were only 18 wineries.” “Now there are 30, 40, 50, 60 “and it’s just gotten impossible for you to know “which ones are the best.” Well, now there are 4,000 wineries in California and 11,000 plus in the United States. How would anyone know what the best wines are? You ask someone. Well that’s what they did in the 19th century. They would ask, which party’s ballot should I take? I’ll take yours, put it in the box, have a beer. Sometimes you were paid for it. In Jersey, I think the going rate for voting was one to $3 per voter. Very different than today. The third type is what we’re more familiar with and that’s the so-called, the informed voter. The informed voter was a result of the Progressives, who didn’t like the undue influence of parties, lobbyists, big business. And there was a reaction against that and they began to push the idea of the informed voter who would make up his or her mind regardless of pressure from large institutions, lobbyists, corporations, monopolies and so forth. Civil liberties became important in the late 19th, early 20th century. The Supreme Court in the 19th century was mainly deciding who had the power to do what. But in the 20th century, they began to look at individual civil liberties. And that concept grew, which reinforced the notion of the informed voter. This meant that you had to read, which, by the way, disenfranchised a lot of poor people, who hadn’t the luxury of an education. The ballots grew. People were expected to study ballots, learn about candidates and be an informed voter. Well, obviously, that’s very difficult. You can be informed about a few issues. You can be informed, generally, what a person, Are you pro health reform? Anti health reform? And so forth and so on. But, sometimes there are a hundred candidates and issues on the ballot. How are you gonna inform yourselves on all of them? Should a freeway be built? Should we invade North Korea? These are tough questions. To be a truly informed voter, you’d probably have to spend your life doing it. So, what do modern voters do? They use all three. They make judgments about a person’s character, integrity, honesty. Do I like the way he or she looks, talks, acts, thinks? Do they seem trustworthy? Do they seem like they tell the truth? Some just do that. Some media are better than others at helping them do that. Television is, to some, a better medium for that, ’cause you can see them. Other voters use shortcuts, which they called endorsements. It can be what my friend recommends, who knows a lot about this candidate. Or it can be what the Democrats or the Republicans, what the party thinks, or what the New York Times thinks. How many of you have voted for judges, just out of curiosity? Do you know much about them? How’d you decide? Did you interview them? Do you know what their decisions are on cases? Rarely. Well, how’d you do it as an informed citizen? Well, some of you will look at what the Bar recommends, or the L.A. Times, or some other group. And then some voters will study the issues. So, today, what you see is, all three of those particular techniques being used. Integrity, endorsements by some respected group or individual, and, policy issues. So, in thinking about media models to help voters be good citizens, you have to anticipate that those media models will make it possible to use all three techniques to assess the character, to look at who thinks they’re good and which responsible people, experts, whoever you trust, like them, and what your own judgments are. Hold that thought and we’ll come back to that. So what’s happening with voting today? Voting has dropped. It’s dropped from about 70 to 50%, nationally. So fewer people are voting. Some local elections, you’re seeing less than 10% turnout. So voting is dropping. In 1958, under Eisenhower, one of the polls started asking, do you trust the federal government to do the right thing, just about always or most of the time? Most of you are familiar with that particular poll. It’s been run over and over and over for years. So there’s 50 years, 60 years of data on whether people trust the government. In 1958, 76% of the people said, yeah, they trust the government, federal government, to do the right thing most of the time. In 2000, just after many of you were born, it’s dropped to 55. Today, 19%. So trust has dropped in government. There’s more. Only 1/3 can name all three branches of government. One out of three. 40% cannot name the vice president of the United States. Most cannot name a single Supreme Court justice. 2/3 can’t name their own congressman. On a key issue, for instance, six out of 10 people think we spend more on foreign aid than on Medicare. Actually, we spend seven times more on Medicare than on foreign aid. So people know very little about government, but trust has dropped. Studies have also shown engagement and voting are boosted by knowledge and that ignorance leads to cynicism. So, are Americans becoming more ignorant in the middle of a media revolution? Does that make sense? How could that be happening? In 1980, with only three television networks, almost no cable television, no direct broad satellite TV, no cell phones, no internet, no worldwide web, no streaming video, no social media, poll asked people generic questions about government. Can you name the vice president? How many branches of government are there? And they did that again 35 years later in 2015, when people were awash in an explosion of new media. And you’re carrying some of it in your pockets. People knew less about government in 2015 than they did in 1980. So how does that compute? Less media is more knowledge. More media is less knowledge. Very challenging, very peculiar. But this problem may be deeper than a simple explosion of media. What we’re seeing is also a loss of trust in democracy itself. For example, another recent poll. 75% of the people born in the United States in the 1930s say it is essential to live in a democracy. But of people born in the 1980s, millennials, which you’re familiar with, only 30% say it’s essential to live in a democracy. So 70% of millennials, apparently, don’t think democracy is essential. There’s more. 24% of millennials thought democracy was a bad or a very bad way, of running a country. Even worse. Americans saying army rule was good or a very good thing if the government was viewed as incompetent or failing. That has risen from one in six supporting military rule in 1995, sorry, one in 16 to one in six in 2014. 43% of older Americans say it’s illegitimate for the military to take over, but only 19% of millennials said so. So, according to many, military government is preferable to democracy. It’s very troubling. Younger Americans, apparently, obviously this room is an exception, have become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system. Less hopeful that anything they might do can influence public policy and more willing to support authoritarian alternatives. So, that’s the picture of voting in government. Now let’s look at the revolution in media and see if this has contributed to this in any way. I think there’s been a major shift in electronic media and you’re, obviously, very familiar with it. But I would characterize the shift around 1980 to ’90, in that period, as being a shift from the age of monopolies and one-way communication to the age of diversity and a shift to two-way interactive communication. That’s been the revolution. That’s been the major change. Bob Stern, my colleague, and I, grew up in an era of one-way communication. You were always being talked to by New York Times, CBS, whatever it happened to be. There was two-way communication. You would talk to your neighbor or use a telephone, but that was about it. Today, it’s completely reversed. So let me talk a little bit about that. First, the age of one-way communication. Back to Marconi in my speech title who didn’t invent, but really pioneered what he called the wireless telegraph, which became to be known as radio. It was a way of communicating without wires, without messengers, without flares. You know, the Romans had terrific communications. They could get a signal from Germany back to Rome in one night. You know how they did it? They had bonfires built on the tops of mountains and each one was in sight of another. If there was a clear message that they had to get back to Rome, they would light the bonfire, which meant, the Huns are coming, or whatever pre-arranged message, and then the next mountain would light up the fire, and the next one, and they could get that all the way back to Rome in one evening. So it’s pretty clever. So there were ways of communicating wirelessly, but, obviously, that was a little difficult. Marconi pushed, basically, radio communications and spread it to ships at sea and, ultimately, other countries. The key was speed. It, before that, might have taken days or weeks to find out what was going on in other countries. But with radio, it took seconds. Wars were won by people who had the radio signals and their enemy didn’t. Passengers were saved off the Titanic. The world shrunk. People got news in real time. It was happening now. It had to be discussed now. Candidates would have to deal with the latest crisis because people knew what the latest crisis was the day before the election. So the immediacy of wireless began to change communications and then, what became radio really exploded. AM, ultimately FM, educational radio. Demagogues arose and spoke nightly into millions of homes. Roosevelt’s fireside chats. You could actually hear the voices of congressional leaders. Commercials emerged. Negative commercials. Radios made points that were challenging. Voters had to learn, think, choose. Crises were magnified. Made a big difference. But it was a one-way process. Television then, obviously, accelerated this. And you’re all familiar with that, where people telegenic. Kennedy-Nixon debates began to affect how politics was conducted. Kennedy was charming, articulate. Lyndon Johnson and Nixon weren’t. Jimmy Carter was. Ronald Reagan was off the charts. Clinton was the master, et cetera, et cetera. The media portrayals, how telegenic someone was, became critical. But essentially, it was one-way communication. You couldn’t talk back to your television set. You could listen but you couldn’t speak. Media were concentrated. There were only a few outlets. When I grew up with television, there were only three networks. 90% of prime time audiences in the ’60s and ’70s and into the ’80s, were watching one of three networks. Fox didn’t exist. Everything had to go through them. What were media reform efforts focused on? I was involved in that a lot. The whole thrust of media reform, when you’re dealing with a monopolistic communication that was concentrated, is to try and diversify it. We want more voices. We want more opinions. There’s too much network censorship. It has to be opened up. There were lots of techniques to deal with that. There were legal techniques, fairness doctrine, equal time, some of you know those. I was involved in a lot of lawsuits that were essentially designed to try and get more views into the concentrated mass media. I was telling some, I worked on a, started a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court that tried to strike down and did strike down the ban on public radio stations, television stations editorializing. That was a law that the government had passed to prevent public stations from expressing an opinion. Kept ideas out of the media. Got the Supreme Court to reverse that. We fought license renewal challenges. We fought censorship of controversial speakers, anti-war speakers. There was a football game in Buffalo in which the students trotted out at halftime during the Vietnam War, what was called a tiger cage. You probably don’t know what that was but, apparently, prisoners were, apparently, put in bamboo cages like tigers were and tortured. So they brought one of those out on the field to protest the Vietnam War, and ABC turned the cameras off and focused them on the audiences in the stadium and never mentioned it. So I represented the Buffalo Students Association arguing that they had been censored. But notice, all of this was designed to get more stuff, more views, more controversy, more issues into the media. The most extreme version, for the government, was the move for access. I created counter-commercials. They were commercials, radio and television commercials, that said, don’t buy that, it’s bad for you. Then I tried to get the broadcast media to carry those. Well, they didn’t. So I would sue them. And the idea was, if you’re gonna sell commercials for pro products, then you ought to be equal and sell products for anti products. That went to the United States Supreme Court. Lost it. That’s when I lost. But the point was, the whole effort was trying to get more into the media. So that was the first stage, from about 1899 all the way up into the 1980s. The second stage was two-way communication, and you’re very familiar with that, which started pretty much with the internet and the worldwide web. Obviously, there had been some two-way communication, telephones and so forth, but as the web grew and people could access the internet and then email and then search engines, and then stream video, and then the merger of text, voice and video, and all of this came in kind of a rush, suddenly we’re in a world of social networking. And this is a totally different world than the first 80, 90 years. It’s one in which, as A.J. Liebling once said, “Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one.” Now, you all own one. It’s in your pocket. You can communicate with anyone in the world through various social medias, through blogs, and there are now billions of messages a day. Facebook has 2.4 billion members. This has all happened in a few years. This is changing our political systems as well. I figured most of you, I’m guessing, are between 18 and 22, 23, roughly in that category? Well, here’s an example of what’s happened in the years you were born then, 1995 to 1999? Am I pretty much in the ball park? 1995, for the first time, Americans bought more computers than television sets, sent more emails than surface mail and transmitted more data messages than voice messages. That’s ’95. ’96, Amazon opened, ’96, as an online bookstore. Jeff Bezos’s original name was Cadabra, in abracadabra, but his lawyer thought it sounded like cadaver, so he talked him out of it. Then he came up with Relentless.com. But his friends thought that was too sinister. So he then went through the dictionary looking for words and came up with Amazon ’cause it looked foreign and exotic and that’s why we have it. The MP3 format emerged in that year, ’96, and that began to destroy the music industry. Google was launched as a research project at Stanford. The original name? Backrub. (attendees laugh) What is it now? Alphabet. 1997, right in the middle of your period. Cassini, the satellite, was launched 20 years ago, which just crashed into Saturn last week. Made revolutionary discoveries, possible life on Enceladus. It transmitted back hundreds of thousands of images. It took an hour and a half at light speed to get back to earth. It did it with 512 kilobytes of RAM. What’s that mean? The iPhone 7, in your pocket, if you have an iPhone 7, depending on the memory you bought, has 62,000 to 500,000 more times than Cassini. That’s what’s happened in 20 years. And you’re carrying it around. So, computers have just massively grown in capabilities. 1998, Apple released the pyramid-shaped iMac in multiple flavors or colors. Google was finally funded and emerged. It’s motto, don’t do evil. In 2015, it created Alphabet as its holding company and dropped the motto. So I don’t know how ominous that is. 1999, WIFI emerged. WIFI and the networked computer. The Blackberry, the cell phone, not the fruit, began its relatively short-lived dominance. We don’t remember the Blackberry. But that was Obama’s favorite cell phone, remember? That was 2008. So, you were born in important times. You did miss stuff. You probably never had to lick a postage stamp. But, in your lifetime, you’ve witnessed an explosive growth of revolutionary new media and you’re living it every day. Obviously there are many benefits and I won’t go through and list them all. You’re familiar with them. Brings people together. New opportunities for candidates. All the rest. Look at the membership. Facebook, two billion monthly users. YouTube, 1 1/2 billion monthly users. Instagram, 700 million. Twitter, 300 million. Snapchat, the fastest growing, now at 200 million monthly users. And more and more people are using them, obviously. Many people said, this is gonna change and improve our politics. Candidates can have direct contact with the voters. Political advertising is virtually free. Messages can go viral. You can get tweets out. You can tailor your messages to specific audiences. You can raise money online. You can get feedback from audiences. You can reach hip, young audiences by targeting them. It looked terrific. So, what are the problems with social media in terms of government? Well, I’ll pick two. A small one and a big one. The small one is fake news. Well, it’s relatively small. It’s smaller than the big one. It turns out, there really is fake news and fake media, but not, it turns out, CNN or the television networks or the New York Times, in my view, but, deliberately created false stories. They’re planted on fake websites, allegedly distributed by individuals who are actually non-existent, on social networks like Facebook. Fabricated false names, identities. People supposedly see a false news story on a fake, or artificially-created website, redistribute them. They’re shared by others, picked up. More and more people give it attention and credibility and it’s picked up by the mainstream media and repeated. Russia, apparently, has done that. Buying ads on Facebook and creating hundreds of fake individuals who are Facebook members, who would then, allegedly, see this new website and say, hey, I’ve just seen this. You ought to take a look. And this begins to build virally. There was a guy in Florida who built a fake news website. Had one million viewers within a week. He did it as a joke and he started making money off of it and he kept it up. So, fake news and the problems with fake news that are undermining the integrity of journalism and the regular media, are clearly a problem. People are trying to figure out what do we do about that? Do we get Facebook to self-censor? Do we set up government entities that will authenticate the news? Do we massively put money into voter education? How do we handle deliberate attempts by other countries to distort and falsify the news? I don’t have great answers. I’ll talk about that in a minute. But that’s what I call the smaller problem. The larger problem, I think, is that the fabled First Amendment marketplace of ideas may not really work. Our entire constitutional First Amendment jurisprudence is built on a theory first articulated by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1921, that the best test of truth is not to have someone authenticate it, to say what’s right and what’s wrong, but to allow a marketplace of ideas to function in which everybody can say what they want and then everybody listens and makes up their mind. And out of that, consensus and truth will emerge. Historically, truth in societies has usually been authenticated by a priest, a witch doctor, some leader of a tribe will say, this is what’s the case. The church, Galileo. You’re all familiar with those problems. Holmes’s doctrine was, you have to let people say what they want and audiences will make up their own minds. And our First Amendment liberal jurisprudence is based on that. Can Nazis march down the street in Skokie, Illinois? Yes. Is their speech dangerous? Quite probably. But, you need to let them speak and let audiences make up their mind. That’s been the reason why we protect speech more than, virtually, any other country, which they view as crazy. They think we’re nuts in our sort of attitude towards the First Amendment, but it’s deeply embedded in our jurisprudence. Interestingly, I’m not aware that the marketplace of ideas theory has ever been tested. Have psychologists run experiments to see if it really works? A Supreme Court judge just came up with it about 80, 90 years ago, and we’re following it, but, what are we doing? Is it a real truth that, if you let everybody say what they want, truth will emerge? Although it’s never been tested, we might have a laboratory, actually. And we could call it Facebook. We have billions of people on Facebook, to say nothing of Twitter and Snapchat and everything else, and they’ve been debating ideas back and forth in the most elaborate, huge marketplace of ideas the world has ever seen. Do they believe that Obama was born in Kenya? That vaccinations cause autism? That Hillary kept sex slaves in a child abuse ring based in a Washington pizza parlor? Well somebody did and walked into it with a gun. You’re familiar with that. That global warning is a Chinese hoax? Do they believe that the moon landing was faked in a Hollywood studio? That aliens are being held as prisoners in Area 51? That sea levels have risen a foot in some areas of the world? Oh, sorry. That one actually is true. (attendees laugh) So, we have this huge marketplace of ideas and yet, we have these ideas that are still fervently believed by millions of people. So, to the extent we have an experiment, it might suggest that there are flaws in the marketplace of ideas concept. But what to do about it? That’s the trick. Coming back to wine. If there are 100,000 wines produced in the United States every year, how would you pick one as an informed consumer? If there are hundreds and thousands of candidates running every year, how do you pick one as an informed consumer? So it’s kind of an analogous problem. You can try and taste every wine. Good luck. You could go to an expert, but who would you trust? You could try and look at the integrity of the winemaker. Is he or she serious? Do they use oak, whatever? Yeah, possibly. But they probably all do. There are wines now that are being chemically adjusted to taste like older, aged wines. They’ve figured out the kinds of chemicals you can put into a wine, that are exhibited by very expensive old-aged wines. And they’re putting it in, they’re just injecting them into wines. You can buy a $10 wine that might fool somebody into thinking it’s a thousand dollar Bordeaux. Well? Is that good? Maybe it is. Maybe you get a thousand dollar Bordeaux for $10. But, similar things are happening in the marketplace of ideas and we’ve never had to confront that. I think that probably one of the largest social experiments that we, as a nation, have ever performed on ourselves, is television. Imagine, let’s have everybody stare into a cathode ray tube for six to seven hours a day for 70 years of the life, and let’s see what happens. That’s basically what we did with television. And now, the next experiment is social media. Let’s see what happens. And, by the way, we’re also doing it with self-driving cars, which is another issue. So, okay, so we’ve got these serious problems. The marketplace of ideas may not be functioning the way it’s predicted to function. Media scarcity that we had for many years is being replaced by a media fire hose, diluting trusted sources of information, disseminating fake news via automated bots, opening a pipeline for demagogues to distribute their opinions widely. It turns out social media can increase intolerance, polarization, even threaten violence. And this is also being accompanied by a rapid decline in the traditional news media. Very serious. What you’re seeing, if you look, is drop-offs in political coverage at the state and local level, particularly when capitals are fairly far away from population centers. So it means we’re finding out less about our elected officials at the state and local level in many areas. What does that mean? It means, among other things, a greater likelihood of corruption, ’cause nobody’s looking over their shoulder. It’s tempting when that happens. So, the disintegration of the traditional news media, moving out of markets where legislators are functioning, is beginning also to affect our political process. The scarcity, bottom line, the scarcity that I and others complained about for 80 years, not me for 80 years, but many for 80 years, that the media was monopolistic, that opinions are being suppressed, that’s been blown open. And now we have this tsunami of interaction, of social networking, of opinions from every possible source, and we’re seeing polarization, demagoguery, and other serious problems. That doesn’t mean we should put a stop to it and I don’t think we can and I don’t think we should. But we have to deal with the consequences. So let me shift to that. Are there new media models that we can consider? I think we’re getting close to the end of this, so I’m gonna be very succinct. The Center for Governmental Studies actually developed a number of media models that I think are still, potentially, useful. There are three involving voting information and elections and two involving communication with elected officials. Let me quickly describe what I mean. The first was the Democracy Network. What we did was we built a grid, an issue grid for candidates. And the candidates would sign up and they’d go online to a web page and issues would be across the top. Education, et cetera, et cetera, and their names would be down the left. They could add a thousand-word statement under any issue or they could create an issue and a new column would appear. And they would add issues. So a candidate would put an issue on education and it would put a check under that box and you could click the check and read the statement. Then you’d look at the opposing candidates and it would say, no comment, no comment, no comment, no comment. But his comment, the first one, would be circulated automatically, by email, to all the other candidates. So they would know that their opponent had a position on education and the grid said that they didn’t. So they had an incentive to reply. They would reply and they would get a checkbox. But they would then pick foreign affairs and put in a statement. And then the other candidates wouldn’t have a position on it, so they’d have to reply. So it was kind of a rolling, evolving debate. We built this and designed it in 1994, three years after the web, so, very early. Launched it in ’76, sorry, ’86, and it became quite successful. We then had the ’98 election nationally, in 30 states. We were getting millions and millions of hits. People really liked it. Candidates were participating. We had one race in which candidates were debating every 10 minutes back and forth and the grid was expanding to 30 and 40 issues. Then we wanted to add video and audio and foreign languages. We had this whole thing worked out, and, what we found was, that there wasn’t enough bandwidth. People couldn’t get on and we had pay for more and more bandwidth and we ran out of money. So, basically, we succeeded ourselves out of business. We couldn’t afford the success. We were foundation-supported and we didn’t have enough money. We then got an offer from a dot-com startup in Silicon Valley and they bought our system for three million bucks. We split it with the League of Women Voters. I didn’t get any of it. It was a nonprofit that did. They, then, invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in it, ran it for a few years, it won awards. AOL copied it. Others copied it. Time Warner copied it. Then the startup closed it down. Why? Several reasons. One was they wanted to build traffic and we’re doing it a freebie to pull in viewers, but, after the election, there was no traffic. Elections are episodic. They don’t run all year round. Presidential elections, we have once every four years. So they couldn’t invest in something to build traffic that only really pulled in people every year, or every two years, or every four years. On top of that, some candidates didn’t wanna do it. Politicians don’t wanna tell you what they really think ’cause the minute they do, they lose voters. What’s your position on abortion? Well, I think women should choose, but the right to life is important. So what’s your position on abortion? Well I’ve just said it. They don’t wanna say, right? Because somebody’s gonna not vote for them as a result. So we were challenged and we were creating the incentive to force them to be specific in ways that they didn’t wanna do. So they began to resist. And we didn’t have enough of a momentum to where you had to be in it. So, it was dropped and hasn’t been brought back. But, it had a number of advantages. One was the impressions. The number of times the voter would see the candidate’s position was not dependent on the money paid by the candidate for commercials, but on how many times you wanted yourself to look at something. In other words, you controlled the impressions you got of the candidate, not the candidate’s advertising budget. Very interesting, important distinction. Many other advantages. There were a number of reasons why it didn’t succeed, but it still has potential. You might think about the construction of something like the Democracy Network today. We couldn’t get the candidates to use video. They didn’t know how to do it. They weren’t familiar with it. But a lot of you are using it every day. Snapchat. YouTube. Candidates are much more comfortable with it. We were doing it very early and video was very slow to download in those days. ’96 you could barely get a video. The idea was, in a sense, way too soon. But, if something like that were brought back and it had solid funding from somewhere. I’m not sure where. Maybe Google. Maybe a private company would do it. Video would be a lot easier. Storage, network storage is a lot easier. Publicity would push candidates into it. It could be an antidote to false news and rebuild trust. And, it would give voters information in three ways. It would allow them to look at positions. They could upload endorsements. They could link to YouTube and other social media so you could virally recirculate and retransmit videos and talk about them. You could ask questions. All of this could be updated to incorporate social media, but you would have a central place in each election in which you could actually look at the candidates’ issues and positions and, also, what you thought of their integrity by looking at videos. So, the idea may have been 20 years too soon, but I think it’s still too late to walk away from it, and it might make a contribution. The second, well we call it Video Voter, you have a Video Voter program yourself. We figured, well, we couldn’t get foundations to pay for the Democracy Network, so how about getting cities to pay for it? So, we worked with cities to give candidates the opportunity to videotape a short statement and they would then put it on their cable TV system. New York did it. They had 200 candidates. We worked with them for a month. Every candidate walked in, got makeup, got a teleprompter. They did their statement twice. They could pick the one they liked the best. And it was put into a grid and anyone in New York City could watch it before the election. That worked fairly well. Number of cities did it. Santa Monica did it. L.A. did it. New York, other cities did, Seattle. Problems? It had to be funded. Took a staff to organize it. People would walk in and not know what to do. A lot of them didn’t know how to use a teleprompter. They were awkward at the process. They were inexperienced. Cities were a little afraid that by doing this they would be accused of favoring one candidate over, That Democrat looked better than the Republican. You obviously want Democrats to be elected. So cities began to get a little nervous. They didn’t want that heat. But, nonetheless, there are 20,000 incorporated cities in the United States. All of them have cable TV systems. All of them have a legal right to a free government-access channel, in which all they have to do is create a facility for candidates to use. So there’s an opportunity there for video messages from candidates that very few cities have explored. There’s an interesting opportunity. We called it Video Voter. You have a Video Voter system. So that could be developed and scheduled in very interesting ways. You could schedule access so people would know when statements would be up. You could get Q&As. You could have experts. You could have endorsements uploaded by candidates. All sorts of things could be done. Third idea that’s often ignored. Secretaries of state have voter pamphlets and voter information and a lot of that’s now online. We did a study, Bob and I did a study, three or four years ago and we ranked all of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, in terms of their secretary of state voter information websites. The highest ranked, it got As, were California and Alaska. Oregon got a B. There were 42 states that got Fs. In other words, there’s an enormous potential, California’s very good. There’s enormous potential for secretary of state websites to be developed because they could have almost everything we’ve talked about. Printed ballot pamphlets. Video statements by all the candidates. Endorsements. Responses to questions. All of that could be built in the existing infrastructure that exists now and nobody’s paying attention. The secretaries of state are clueless. They’re either bureaucrats or they come out of the political system, but they know virtually nothing about media. So, there’s an opportunity, both video voter, our old D net, and also secretary of state websites to begin to provide voter information. Then there are two others that I’ll just mention as possibilities. These are ways for people to relate to elected officials year round. You’re all familiar with, although you probably rarely watch, C-SPAN. C-SPAN is three national channels. But what’s interesting is, every state could do the same thing. And cities could do the same thing. In other words, live coverage of city and state and federal proceedings. This could be city council meetings. It could be administrative body hearings. It could be press conferences. It could be Supreme Court oral arguments, if you wanna bring the judiciary in. And setting up remote cameras is not expensive, not hard to do, but you could then, integrate it in ways that have never been tried. You could get a text message that would say, your city council is discussing your environmental issue tomorrow at 7:30. It could be archived. You could have a network of these channels. So, if you wanna see what Tuscaloosa or Atlanta or Seattle is doing to protect against global warming consequences you can pull all of those statements together into one package and look at them to see what other jurisdictions are doing. In other words, you can begin to use the interactivity that’s available today to organize these videos that have never been organized. So, again, you have raw materials to deal with that have never been really turned into something. And, last, we developed one prototype which we never got funded, called Digital Democracy. And this is what it did. It was for elected officials. They would put a little icon on their website. They all have them. It would say, wanna give me your opinion? Click here. So you click. It would ask you to put in your name and your email. Then you had a choice of 10 or 12 issues top pick from or you could add some. That would go into a database with the official and he or she could then send you emails giving you a poll, for instance. Here are three options on what to do about traffic in L.A., one, two, three. Which do you like? They’d be aggregated by the elected official. It would then go back. Here’s what you said and here’s what I’m gonna do about it. We begin to build a kind of an easy communication between constituent and elected official so when the elected official says I’m gonna have a town hall meeting, people would come, knowing who he or she was. They’d been interacting with him. Now that might begin to build issue awareness and it might begin to build a sense of trust as to who these people were, what they’re doing. Are they serious? They’re asking my opinion on giving it. They’re responding. It would create a dialog. We showed that to about, We built a prototype. Showed it to about 20 elected officials. A lot of them said, oh I love this, when can I get this? We ran out of funding, so we never did it. Now, what’s my point? And then I’ll stop. The point is that we’re confronting crises in voting, in trust towards the political system, and a massive explosion of media that’s undermining some basic conceptions, including the marketplace of ideas, which is the core constitutional doctrine that protects freedom of speech in this country. And we don’t know what to do about it. Some people are suggesting the government ought to authenticate ideas. Why doesn’t the government buy FactCheck.org and fund it and make everybody watch it or publicize it or authenticate what’s true and what’s not. That’s a little scary. Others are saying, well, we need better education in schools which is a 50-year project. So, nobody’s sure what to do about this, but we can see that, although there’s really attractive benefits from social media and the interactivity and the two-way, we’re seeing the traditional news media crumbling, losing markets, closing down, losing investigative journalism. We’re seeing mistrust towards the news media. We’re seeing a mistrust towards government. So, there’s side effects. There are consequences from this media revolution and we’re just doing it. We’re experimenting on ourselves. So my suggestion is, begin to look at the resources we already have. We have governments. We have voter information websites. We have cable TV channels that can be used. We have ways of linking them together. We have ways of building interactive communication between elected officials and candidates and voters in ways that are new, innovative, and could begin to solve some of these problems instead of freaking out and starting to censor stuff. So, my answer, I suppose, to this crisis is to begin to look at positive solutions and use the media in new and effective ways. We did that for a number of years and the experiments are there. I always like what Peter Drucker said. You probably know Peter Drucker at these colleges. He once said that, “The best way to predict the future “is to create it.” So, in the end, as the young generation, it’s up to you, isn’t it. Thank you very much. I’m happy to answer questions if you have any. (audience applauding) We’ll now being doing question and answer. Please raise your hand if you have a question. As always, preference goes to students. So far, it’s easy. Hi Professor. Thank you for your talk earlier. It was really interesting. I guess my question is, it’s one thing to encourage interaction or engagement with a community over social media with regards to civic engagement and such, but how, would you say, can we ensure that the interactions are constructive and meaningful especially with the fact that there’s a lot of people who are, There’s a lot of phenomenon of like hate speech and things going on. So how should we encourage for more conversations to be constructive rather than destructive? Well, I have a couple of answers. One is, you can’t. But that’s not very helpful. A second answer is to think about what’s happening right now. We’re in a group of, what, 50, 60 people? I haven’t counted. The larger the group, the more people become self-conscious of how they’re perceived and what the etiquette of the group is. If you’re sitting talking with a friend and something happens, you may start cursing. God dammit, mumble, mumble. But if that thing happened right now, while you had the microphone in your hand, you probably wouldn’t do that. So, we are increasingly aware of the language and opinions we express, the larger the audience. The interesting thing about the internet and some websites and text messages is you can do it anonymously. So one answer would be that all of these proposals I’ve been announcing have to be done with your name on it. That won’t stop some people, but there is this kind of sense that the larger the audience, the more I have to be on guard, and the more I have to watch my words, which is good, in a way. It lets us blow off steam in private, but, when we get up in public, we don’t curse. That’s a possible answer. A third would be to create rules. That’s hard because that usually means censorship. If you say such and such, we’re gonna cut you off. I’m always reluctant to do that ’cause I’m an old marketplace of ideas guy. I still tend to think that that’s a better doctrine than anything else I can think of at the moment, although other countries don’t. Underneath this, the answer to your question is, we may be forced to re-think the marketplace of ideas concept that let anyone say anything they want, never censor it, because people will figure out what’s right and wrong. It’s not clear they will. If that’s true and if it turns out enough people are not figuring out what’s right and wrong and that this marketplace of ideas is dysfunctional, then our constitutional jurisprudence may have to change, and we may begin to look to Robert’s Rules of Order and think about ways of saying that comment is out of order and we’re not gonna let you repeat it and we’re gonna bar you from this group, which, like always, has bad consequences, but that may happen. We’re not there yet, and if we can figure out positive solutions to it, some of the ones I’ve been discussing, we may avoid that. But it’s lurking, so, I guess that’s my answer. (clears throat) Good evening. Thank you for speaking with us tonight. Could you speak a little bit more about your involvement in those court cases you had mentioned prior? Yeah, uh, (clears throat), um, Well, there were a number of different kinds of cases, but usually they involved either preventing a broadcast station from self-censoring, cutting someone off the air. So, for instance, Mark Lane was an author who wrote a book called Rush to Judgment about the Kennedy assassination and he was saying, maybe there was conspiracy and this and that. He was on the left. He was a very progressive guy. He got on the air on a station, KTLN in L.A., and was asked by an interview program, what do you think? Was there a conspiracy? He began explaining why he thought there was. Actually, I may, uh, it’s been so long ago, It was either that or it was a massacre in Vietnam. I think he was talking about My Lai, maybe it was that, and he started talking about, sorry, got my facts mixed up. So he started talking about that on the air, and the management cut him off the air. So, when you saw the program, which was syndicated and circulated around the country, when he started talking, there was a blank for about 25 seconds, and then it came back. I represented an anti-war group that filed a complaint against the station for censorship for controversial speech. We argued it was against the mandate of serving the public interest. So that was an example. Abbie Hoffman, you may remember him, got on The Merv Griffin Show, it was a big evening talk show, and took off his jacket and he was wearing an American flag tie. CBS was so freaked that they showed Merv Griffin talking to him and the left-hand of the screen was all blued out. It was just a big blue blob. Merv Griffin sat there for five minutes talking to this big blue blob because they didn’t want to show the American flag tie. They thought it was disrespectful and they could be fined for desecrating the flag. So, we would file complaints against licensee self-censorship on the argument they were suppressing viewpoints. That was one approach. Another approach was to try and get different views affirmatively into the media. I represented a group called Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace. What they decided to do, was create television commercials opposing the war. One of them showed this big dinner table and there was a pie, and the voice came on and said, When they’re dividing up the pie in Washington, And it shows this guy in kind of like a military junta, he looks like a Pan-American terrorist but he’s actually an American general. And he’s got this big pie and he cuts a little piece and gives it to a nurse, and cuts a little piece and gives it to a working man with a helmet. And then he cuts 2/3 of the pie out and starts stuffing it in his mouth. He says, most of it goes for war. Your dollars are being spent on the Vietnam War and thousands of people are being killed. Do you really want this? This was the thrust of the commercial. They went to the networks and offered to buy it. Networks wouldn’t sell it. The networks were selling commercials to the army, saying join the military, see the world, serve in foreign ports and all that, but they wouldn’t sell commercials to the anti- And, so, I represented them, along with others, and that went to the Supreme Court and we lost, I think, five to four. The argument was, licensees are like newspapers. They have the discretion to decide what to sell. But that was the battle. Then I started a counter-commercial advertising agency. The idea was, well, companies have commercials, consumers don’t. So what messages would consumers like to hear? We did one involving the Chevrolet engine mount recall. 6.7 million cars were recalled because of a defective engine mount that holds the engine in the frame. What would happen is that, if the engine mount broke, the engine would kinda go kerchunk, and it could jam the accelerator down and cut off your breaks and power steering. So your car would just suddenly take off like a rocket with no warning. General Motors agreed to recall them, but nobody knew it because they weren’t publicizing it. We got Burt Lancaster to do a 30-second commercial, in which he sits behind this desk and he says, and you see the names of the Chevrolet Camaro, and the Nova and all that, and his opening line was, “If you have one of these cars, “it could cost you your life.” That got attention. They were built with defective engine mounts. If they break they could push your accelerator down and cut off your breaks and power steering. Thousands of accidents had happened and some deaths had been alleged. He says, “Now, General Motors won’t fix this, “but they will install a free safety cable.” His last line was, “So I urge you, “if you have one of these cars, “get it to your local Chevrolet dealer, slowly.” (audience members laugh) Then I sent those to CBS, NBC and ABC and offered to buy the time. I didn’t have the money, but I offered to buy the time. They all refused and then I sued them to create a right-of-access for counter-commercials. And we did one with Burt Lancaster and over-the-counter drugs, in which he has seven over-the, Bufferin, Anacin, and he says, “If you have one of these, “drugs like these are irrational, not recommended “and unsound according to the American Medical Association.” So he said, “If you have a headache, “if you need something for your head, use your head. “Buy the least expensive, generic aspirin you can find.” Well, of course, And I sent it to companies asking them to run it and a station in Washington did, once. And then they took it off and I called up the head of public service announcements or whatever, and I said, why’d you pull it? He said, “Oh, we got too much heat from sponsors.” Which was the point. So, I was trying that. Trying to get controversial messages and consumer messages into the media. Didn’t get very far on that. Those are examples and, last one, I represented Yale Broadcasting, which is a student station at Yale. Previous President Nixon had decided that rock music was undermining morale in Vietnam, and that some of the lyrics were pro drug. So he got the FCC chairman and the commission, to put out a public notice that said stations could lose their licenses if they broadcast pro-drug music. A friend of mine did a survey of all the stations in Virginia. He went to, I don’t know, 20 or 30 radio stations and they were censoring music right and left. Brewer % Shipley had a song called One Toke Over The Line. That was clearly drug-related. That was being censored. Another group did Puff the Magic Dragon, which was a kids’ song. That was apparently about marijuana, so that was being dropped. One station dropped all Bob Dylan lyrics because they couldn’t understand them (audience members laugh) and didn’t wanna take a chance. (laughs) So, I represented Yale Broadcasting saying this was licensee censorship. We actually, we went to the Supreme Court. We lost on the big issue of the whole thing being reversed but, we forced the FCC to modify its policy to the extent that it really wasn’t very effective. So, that kind of stuff. Represented the Black Congressional Caucus and trying to get a reply to President Nixon’s State of the Union message. But notice, all of that was trying to get less censorship, more views in. Now we have the opposite problem. As the first question was, what do we do about a lot of bad speech? How do we get it out? So the disadvantage of the old system was that it did suppress controversial views. The advantage of it was that it did suppress some views in order to present a kind of a mainstream picture that most people saw. It was slow. It was slow to react to the civil rights movement, slow to react to the Vietnam War, and so forth, but, it had a kind of a consensus effect, which we now see is disintegrating. And that’s the issue. Thank you so much for your talk. I very much enjoyed it. My question is kind of along the similar lines of the first question, but mine’s less about how do we make sure that it’s good speech, but more along the lines of, how do we make sure that people listen to the good speech? Because we can provide all the amazing resources that we want, but how do we actually increase people’s desire to go to those sources of information that are actually worthwhile and providing good information? Yeah. Well, that’s tough. You can lead a horse to water, can’t make it drink, and it’s the old thing. There are several answers. I don’t know if they will be terribly persuasive to you. One is education. It always comes down to education. Educating people to be interested in ideas, to want to listen to them. That’s hard. And people have to live their lives. They have to figure out their jobs and kids and income and their houses being flooded, and the last thing they need to do is listen to a debate about health reform, until you’re, got cancer, then you listen. So it’s hard. A second answer, I suppose, is to figure out how to make it interesting. The masters of that are the advertising world because they can make deodorants interesting. They can make mouthwash interesting. They can make medicines interesting you never heard of. So, it’s clear that banal kind of products, can be made to be fascinating heroes and animated and doing all sorts of amazing things. That kind of effort is never put into political, educational speech. It’s a money issue. The third is, I think, interactivity is a possible solution. If you give people the ability to interact with elected officials, with candidates for office, for people who are dealing with major issues, and give them a feeling they’re being listened to in some way, I think that may change the dynamic. If President Trump walked into this room right now, right through that door, I guarantee nobody would be looking at me. I wouldn’t be looking at me. I’d be looking at him too. People are drawn to important figures who are doing important things. They’re drawn to sports figures. They’re drawn to entertainment figures. They want to interact with them. They would love to interact with them. So there are ways of making that attractive that I don’t think we’ve ever really explored. But, maybe we need to. And maybe, George Washington was right in some way. And that is, that it’s the job of the citizen to pick people with good character and let them do their job. So, maybe the focus should be more on character and credibility and family and, That’s why, in a sense, you see everyone who runs for office does a picture of somebody walking along the beach with his kids and his dog and the jacket over his shoulder and et cetera, et cetera. We need better versions of that, but we need versions that are accurate and true. What are people really like? I don’t think many people knew what Trump was really like. Some people voted for him because they thought they knew what he was like and maybe they were right. I guess my answer is, that’s a challenge. We need to figure out a better answer than I’m giving you, but, what is clear, is that a lot of uninformed people can do some damage. I think there are ways of making this process much more interesting to many more people by engaging them through interactive media. But governments don’t pay attention to that. They don’t do that. The secretaries of state are not interested in video. There are only a few that are even thinking about video, much less interactive ways of getting people involved. The media people are not running government media. Maybe there are opportunities there. Your generation has gotta figure this out. Uh-huh? In the back there’s a question. We’re actually out of time. Oh, sorry.
So please join me in thanking Tracy Weston. Thanks. (audience applauds)

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