Politicizing masks cost American lives and jobs

If everyone had worn a mask since March, tens of thousands of Americans might be alive.

President Donald J. Trump bears direct responsibility for that, as well as the absence of the testing and contact tracing capacity we must have to reopen safely.

Why have European and Asian counties been able to suppress this pandemic while the USA has not?

The public health playbook for a pandemic is not a secret: universal masks, robust, rapid testing, contact tracing, & supported isolation & treatment — quarantine — for infections.

It’s the *only strategy* that will help us reopen in a safe way until we develop an effective vaccine, vaccinate 70%+, and have effective antivirals and therapeutics.

Masks are about protecting other people, & them protecting you, while scientists work on a cure.

The key exception is someone who needs to gear up with a N95 as a healthcare worker or first responder to treat infected patients, in which case they’ll need that respirator, face shield, gloves & gown.

But that better mask would help on a subway ppppppzor bus or plane or office. If we had manufactured tens of millions of N95 masks & distributed them this spring, Americans would be safer — like South Koreans, who did exactly that, distributing inexpensive masks around their nation.

We should have them, and all be wearing them.

Republicans seem to have realized they are on the wrong side of public opinion, the global health consensus, and history, shifting to saying everyone should mask up, with Speaker McConnell, Leader McCarthy and Rep. Cheney all speaking out in favor of wearing them last week.

But President Trump hasn’t just refused to wear a mask himself or tweet his *own administration’s guidance” on people wearing a mask: He has used his bully pulpit on Twitter and White House events to mock people who mask up & cast doubt on their effectiveness.

After months of anti-mask messaging, he finally reversed himself last week.

Why?

Republicans in Congress and Governors finally decided to support this crucial public health intervention — like their peers in the rest of the world’s developed nations and democracies — to stop the spread of COVID19.

“‘I’m all for masks,’ Trump lied, adding that he would wear one himself if he were in a crowded room (he hasn’t) and noting that he had a black one on recently. “I sort of liked the way I looked.’”

And then he hosted two large public events where people close together were not required to wear masks.

His defenders should ask why that didn’t happen in March, April, May, or June, and how many lives were lost as a result.

Every preventable death is a tragedy and I’m not willing to lose my parents or friends or neighbors to malign negligence.

President Trump is the first President in modern US history that has not tried to extend beyond his political base, governing all Americans.

His example carries outsize importance for his supporters — which goes to the importance of him wearing one and supporting their use — and negative valence with anyone else.

The public record shows that President Trump holds significant responsibility for the politicization of masks in the USA and thereby actively undermined a basic public health intervention that would have made a huge difference in the R value (infection rate) of a deadly disease.

God may have mercy on his soul, but historians will not be kind.

Americans will keep dying on his watch until our nation masks up, tests, traces, isolates & treats every case.

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135,000+ coronavirus deaths across America are a failure of presidential leadership, not intelligence

They were warned. They were staffed. They were trained. They were given a playbook.
They were asked to prepare.

U.S, intelligence agencies raised the alarm of the novel coronavirus threat beginning in early January in presidential daily briefs, including China’s coverup.

But for weeks in January, Trump either didn’t read or listen — or perhaps rejected the intelligence and the agencies he doesn’t trust.

For 70 fateful days, he tried to control the growing crisis with spin and bluster, applying the playbook he learned from Roy Cohn, but lethal viruses don’t care about lies or get distracted by blaming the media, immigrants, or your political opponents.

Coronavirus_tracked__the_latest_figures_as_the_pandemic_spreads___Free_to_read___Financial_Times-urban

In April 2020, there are now nearly a million cases of COVID19 across the USA. 50,000+ Americans are dead, with more to come. More than 26 million people are now unemployed. We will be living in a different world for many, many months to come, even after we develop a vaccine.

This was not an intelligence failure. It is a leadership failure. History will show that Trump was warned of a threat to the health of the public, but failed to act.

No amount of White House press spectacles and tweets will change those facts, though we should expect a tidal wave of disinformation from his campaign and hostile foreign nations to try to do so in the minds of Americans.

“This tragedy teaches us many things about preparedness & public health, but it also warns us about the dangers of presidents who are manifestly unprepared to govern.”

President Trump should abjectly apologize and resign, but he won’t. He is not going to change who he is: a “micromanaging meddler and can’t-be-bothered, broad-brush, big-picture thinker.”

Trump’s character and capacity have been on vivid display since he became a national figure in the 1980s. His racism, cruelty, ignorance, xenophobia, lack of empathy, and corruption have continued in office. His grandiose narcissism makes it “impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires.”

He’s tried to run the US government like a family business, replete with nepotism and patronage, and produce a daily reality TV show about it. It’s what Trump knew how to do. But it doesn’t work on this scale of public health crisis.

He won’t become competent.
He won’t stop being corrupt.
He won’t stop lying, deflecting, being divisive, and shifting blame to others.
Pundits, press and politicians who report otherwise aren’t being responsible.

A Fortune 500 board would remove a CEO who behaved this way, failed this badly, and refused to take responsibility. The Senate could have done so this spring by removing Trump from office; we’d have Vice President Pence leading the response, without Trump’s narcissism and ignorance getting in the way.

But here we are.

Every President will be tested in an unexpected way in office, by war or natural disaster or pandemic, and judged based on how they reacted when they learned, and what happened as a result — or didn’t.

Leadership matters. Competence matters. Intelligence matters. Integrity matters. Character matters. Decency matters.

Never forget that the pain we are enduring now didn’t have to be this way: a series of bad decisions, incompetence, and malignant neglect add up to catastrophic leadership failures that literally have meant the difference between life and death for our friends, families and neighbors, and the employment and education of many more.

[Graphic Credit: Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, CDC. This headline and post has been updated with new data.]

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Help contain the viral “infodemic” with good information hygiene

trump lies
When the President of the United States leads a hate movement targeting journalists, seeking to inoculate his partisan supporters against unfavorable reporting or events, he acts as a cancer within our body politic, further eroding the shared facts necessary for collective action to address systemic ills.

Our union is now reaping the whirlwind of years his systematic delegitimization of journalism, government institutions, and the calculated pollution of our public discourse with misinformation & lies.

We need to inject guidance from governors, mayors, doctors and scientists into our feeds to have any hope of inoculating the American people against viral disinformation.

That starts with our press changing its practices: put lies into epistemic quarantine. Switch to an emergency setting.

But it’s going to to rely on politicians, tech companies, and the public to practice good information hygiene, too.

Offline, we wash our hands so we don’t catch or pass on a disease. We emphasize physical hygiene to our kids.

Online, we need to teach them how to use technology and social media responsibly.

It takes 20 seconds to wash your hands properly.
It takes 30 seconds to check info before you share.
How?
“SIFT” it.
Stop.
Investigate the source.
Find better coverage.
Trace claims, quotes, & media to original context.

The more social interactions we have, online or offline, the more responsibility we have not to pass on a virus. Help contain the infodemic.

 

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On March 12 at the US Capitol, an Open Government “State Of The Union” Honoring Sunshine Week 2020

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I’m going to be on a panel on open government at the U.S. Capitol on March 12 to kick off Sunshine Week.

Full details here: Come to the U.S. Capitol for an Open Government “State of the Union” during Sunshine Week 2020

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February 28, 2020 · 3:18 pm

New Facebook Beta shows the company’s pivotal priorities are Stories, Video, Commerce, Groups, and Messaging

Facebook beta

On September 22, Facebook nudged me to try its beta. (I asked on Twitter if anyone else got a nudge. So far, no confirmations.) When I finally got around to it, today, the white space and minimalism in the redesign reminded me a bit of new Twitter!

Facebook-fresh

That aside, Facebook’s pivotal priorities are clear in this beta: user-generated interactive stories, video, commerce, groups, and messaging.

Facebook - fresh - home

There’s still a big display ad on the top right, with Birthdays & Contacts below. New “Stories” from your friends are shown across the top of the newsfeed, as before.

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But the key changes are in the elements shifted from the old vertical menu in “Facebook Classic” to the new horizontal one in the Facebook Beta: marketplace, messenger, watch, & groups.

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The Pages and Groups the world’s largest social networking company knows you use most remain on the top left in the beta, below the Facebook logo and search field. Below those fields, the Facebook Beta has Friends, Events, Memories, Saved, and See More.

Facebook-side-menu

Tapping or clicking “See More” opens up a lonnnnng menu of options which reflect how many areas Facebook has moved into over a decade of expansion, acquisition, and adaptation: Ad Manager, Buy & Sell Groups, Crisis Response, Fundraisers, Games, Gaming Video, Jobs, Messenger Kids, Most Recent, Movies Notes, Oculus, Offers, Pages, Recent Ad Activity, Recommendations, Town Hall, Weather, Help & Support, Settings & Privacy.

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At the very bottom of this menu is a footer with a tiny font with links to Privacy, Terms, Advertising, Ad Choices, Cookies, and More, which opens up About, Careers, Development, and Help.

Facebook-left-menu-bottom

(“Privacy” notably links to Data Policy, which isn’t “redesigned for Facebook Beta yet”)

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I saw no sign of the much-ballyhooed News tab in this Facebook Beta. (I suspect whether Facebook puts that tab in the top menu or the (long!) vertical menu (likely?) will have an impact on adoption and repeat use.)

I also saw no sign of Facebook Dating in the Facebook Beta on desktop, which rolled out in the US two weeks ago on the newest version of its mobile apps. (It may be that Facebook, taking a queue from competing dating apps, considers that solely mobile app experience, but it’s a notable absence.)

The choice to put Video, Groups, Marketplace and Messaging in the core user interface of this Facebook Beta graphically shows Facebook’s priorities after its “pivot to privacy, which close observers have had good reason to maintain some healthy skepticism about this year.

What this Facebook Beta means, and why it matters

What it pushes to consumers in our newsfeeds will also show those priorities, whether it’s nudges to register to vote and donate to disaster relief, key life updates from the friends and family closest to us, or updates on its own features or products, news and entertainment from the outlets and creators we “like,” or town halls hosted our elected representatives or debates between candidates in this year’s campaigns.

What the world’s largest social networking company shows and to whom can literally reshape the course of human events, which is why transparency matters so much for civic features, particularly around democratic processes.

Introducing “FaceRank” for authors?

Whenever that News tab rolls out, expect which stories are prominent and which outlets are featured to be the subject of extreme scrutiny, along with how and when layers of friction are added to disinformation eleswhere across Facebook’s platform. There will be bogus cries of ideological bias mixed in with legitimate criticism of which stories get prominent placement, resulting the attention and traffic relevant to ad revenues and more subscriptions.

Banners_and_Alerts_and_Settings___Privacy___Facebook-linked-publications

On that count, I found something that Facebook called new: a linked publications section in settings. Facebook is urging folks who publish articles to build our readership by adding publications and encouraging them to add us so that our bylines are associated. Despite reports that Facebook Authorship has been deprecated over the years, this could be  a big deal for several reasons.

First, a news tab could indeed build readership, which means socially connecting writing to our profiles or pages could build followers and Likes. That’s a big carrot.

Second, if Facebook gives different publications or authors weight in the Tab or newsfeed for different areas or search, watch for how it weights validated contributions from verified authors who have added publications and displays them. There may important cues for readers that are directly relevant to trust.

Publication_Linking-no-sunlight

On that count, I found that it was only possible to add a publication if it has a Facebook Page and if Facebok recognized it as one: no options pre-populated for TechPresident or the Sunlight Foundation. (Old gatekeepers, meet the new boss?)

Everything I wrote about why journalists need to pay attention to Google Author Rank applies here, albeit within the universe of Facebook’s walled garden instead of Google’s search results of the Web.

Keep an eye on this space.

In the meantime, there’s a Facebook Beta to keep kicking the tires on.

If you’ve used it, please weigh in using the comments below, find my profile or Page on Facebook, or contact me directly.

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Unwiring in upstate

Here in upstate NY, driving miles of country roads to go hiking in an ancient gorge and plunge into the cool depths of the natural swimming pool is well worth the trip.

Visiting Stony Brook takes me back nearly 4 decades, to looking for fossils in the ancient walls, waterfalls, and the indelible memory of chilly, clear waters dappled with sun.

As forest baths go, this was restorative.

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As screens become more ubiquitous, how people use them becomes more important

This weekend, the Sunday New York Times Magazine published a new feature that made a bold assertion: “human contact is now a luxury good.” (I tweeted out a thread about it, but it merits being a blog post.)

Honestly, before we accept an underlying premise, I’d like to see hard data that supports this article’s conclusion about how wealthy people live today, including:

  • how much screentime “the rich” spend daily vs everyone else
  • whether they’re on computing devices versus TVs
  • what they do on those screens (consumption, production, management)

It’s possible that wealthy people spending more on experiences versus on consumer technology reflects a cultural shift and their deeper understanding of the “secret to happiness.” It could also be that cohort already has big TVs, smartphones, tablets, & computers in 2019.

Minimizing screentime in favor of human assistants or meetings is one thing, but I’d like to read more about how, exactly, the wealthy have “opted out” of having their data and their attention sold as a product. Who has been able to leverage their wealth to do this, where, and how?

For instance, how much does Uber know about how some of the rich, more powerful people in the world move around DC and when? Have “the wealthy” opted out? Or what does Google know about their interests? Have they blocked data brokers compiling a profile? And so on.

I don’t doubt many wealthy parents have altered personal tech use themselves & academic use for kids in response to growing evidence of negative impact. We all should be. That’s why I wish NYT had linked to the NIH study on screen time, not a CBS News report on it.

Parents, teachers, principals, and legislators all need to be even more involved not just in crucial access issues (like whether a school has a broadband Internet access or a computer for each child) but also their use. Are kids gaming, watching and consuming? What? How often? At what ages? Or coding, writing, or creating? Are teachers showing them videos on their personal devices?

But education tech aside (the most important part of this piece, to me) I think the assertion that “human contact is rare” for poor people also needs more data behind it, particularly as the result of tech companies intending to confuse themes.

If you don’t have money, you can’t pay for someone else’s time. You can’t outsource a task or errand. You trade time, labor, & even health to earn money. For some parents, work means letting kids watch TV or phone isn’t as much of a choice.

The NYT reporter talked to Sherry Turkle about this, who compared screentime to fast food. It’s…an apt comparison! People know it’s unhealthy, but it’s cheap, accessible, ubiquitously marketed, & can be comforting. Behavioral addictions mediated by tech have parallels to other public health problems.

What’s missing is the extent to which tech use and human contact is mediated not just by wealth but by power, as I discussed with Turkle years ago. It’s implicit, but bears discussion. I suspect it’s only a “status symbol” to be device-free within tiny wealthy and/or highly educated cohorts.

As technology is integrated more into every profession & industry, who has to be connected & when is only the start of a conversation implicating not just workers’ rights but civil liberties & human dignity. Consider who has to wear GPS anklets after they serve their sentences in prison, or the explosion in workplace tracking and the expansion of the “employer surveillance state.”

The NYT article ends not by interrogating this dynamic between wealth or power, or disparities in screen use across class, race or gender, but exploring how tech connects humans in nursing homes, enabling remote workers interact with bed-ridden seniors, the impact of which could be its own followup story.

Some research I’ve seen (and the New York Times has published) suggests technology is not driving us apart, but connecting us.

How, where, when, who, and to what effect remain questions I hope we all keep asking.

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A new texting project to make sense of the zeitgeist

"I_Am_Not_an_Advocate_for_Frequent_Changes_._._."_at_Jefferson_Memorial

This spring, I’ve started a new experiment to connect to people with ideas and, perhaps, to one another: a text messaging newsletter about democracy and technology.

Here’s my basic pitch: Emerging technology has the power to make democracy stronger or weaker.  For $2 every month, you’ll get a mix of news, ideas, projects, proposed laws, and analysis about how technologies are changing our democracy – or vice versa.

Understanding where, when, and how that’s happening is the hard part, as I’ve learned over the past decade of covering this space as an independent writer, digital governance expert, and open government advocate based in the District of Columbia. Figuring out why is often the most difficult, and it’s there that I hope to hear back from people, too: a distributed audience has always made me smarter.

I haven’t decided on how often I’ll send updates, but I’ve been trying a daily practice, to begin. I will be paying close to attention how people respond and what they want. If this interests you, I hope you’ll consider subscribing.

If you’re wondering how the financial side works, by the way, here’s the deal: a subscription cost $2 every month. Of that amount, Stripe will take 5%, data fees will take 5%, and Project Text (which is part of Advance Media) would take 10% of the remainder (18 cents), which would leave me with $1.62 per subscriber.

I should note that I have no plans to stop sharing public insights online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, articles,  interviews and talks. It’s just that it’s important to me professionally to keep growing, trying new things, and seeing if people are willing to pay a little bit for my insight.s

Thank you, as always, for listening.

Image: Wikimedia

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The Sounds of Email

Over on Twitter, Amie Stepanovich shared adapted lyrics to Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” to email.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I helped finish the song there yesterday, and thought it was worth pulling together today. You can listen to an excellent version from their concert in the park in the embedded video below, if you’d like some voices in your head as you read.

The first verse is hers, the rest are mine. I shared a lightly edited because I enjoyed the writing exercise & it made me smile. Perhaps reading will do that for you, too.

Hello email, my old friend
Don’t think that you’ll ever end
Because an inbox that is heaping
Keeps on growing while I am sleeping
And the unread that are waiting in the cloud
Are disavowed
To be met with the sound of silence

In restless dreams I browsed alone
Narrow screens of Apple phones
‘Neath the halo of a desk lamp
I moved my fingers as they were cold and cramped
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a laptop light That split the night
And heard the sound of email

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand emails, maybe more
People writing without speaking
People reading without listening
People sending spam that servers never shared
No one dared
Disturb the sound of email

“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Email like a cancer grows
DM me so I might teach you
Text my phone so I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the bowels of email

And the people refreshed and prayed
To the smartphone gods they made
And my inbox flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the screen said, “The words of the spammers
Are written on Facebook walls
And firewalls”
And whispered in the sounds of email.

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Facebook blocks boost of Facebook update about Facebook adopting public interest feature

I shared the piece I wrote for Medium about the need to preserve ephemeral updates by politicians & civil servants on my Page. I decided to experiment with boosting it.

Facebook did not approve the “ad,” classifying it as political.

When I experimented further by seeing what was required of me for “identity confirmation,” it simply…didn’t work for me in the Facebook app. Tap button, nothing happens.

Some irony here: I was at the tip of the spear pushing Facebook to adopt political ad transparency & worked with Congress on a law to mandate it!

And now, as a result of their ham-handed self-regulation, I can’t engage people on Facebook about my piece advocating Facebook creating a public interest file for politicians and civil servants who create ephemeral media (“Stories”) on Instagram and Facebook.

UPDATE: When I shared this on Twitter, Rob Leathern, the director of product at Facebook responsive for ads integrity and transparency, replied to my @mention, stating that “This is not blocked – this is an ad about an issue of national importance and so requires you to go through the authorization process, before it will run.”

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

When I said the feature wasn’t available on mobile, he told me to visit Facebook from a desktop computer to complete the process. When I did so, Facebook prompted me to enter a mailing address and upload images of my passport, driver’s license or state ID.

There’s an interesting wrinkle here, as I noted to Leathern on Twitter: I’ve been “verified” on Facebook for years now, with a big blue checkmark next to my name and a special signifier in comments. What, exactly, does being “Verified” mean if Facebook still needs to identify who I am?

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