Monday, March 27, 2017
Little Estonia is giving a lesson to the world on how to fight propaganda.-- fake news coming from Russia. The country quickly checks Russian news stories then debunks them if they are untrue. Estonia's media will not interview Russian politicos because they know that a story is already written. The country maintains vigilance and acts fast. The same ought to be true with fake news in the US and Europe. The longer it survives in the marketplace unchallenged, the greater damage it can do. People start to believe stories if they see them coming from two or three sources or if they see support in the form of "likes", even though the "likes" are from robo software. Educational institutions are trying to combat propaganda by training students to be skeptical of news they read, but that only goes half-way. The rest of the lesson is vigorous exposure to facts -- transparency, as Estonia is doing.
Friday, March 24, 2017
There is a PR crisis in science. It has to do with publishing. There is now an abundance of fraudulent science journals on the market. They are pay-to-play, charging scientists for getting their papers printed. They are not peer-reviewed. They have no credibility to the knowledgeable, and they are a trap for the less aware. Scientists caught in the publish-or-perish cycle are using them to buff their resumes, and there is no way to know whether their data has been vetted. There is a reason for examination of one's experiments by other scientists. Science is hard, and there are many ways for experiments to go wrong. There are also unscrupulous scientists who make up experiments and invent data solely for the purpose of getting published. The cure for phony journals is transparency. The scientific community should unmask them and expose them to ridicule. Papers published in them should be discounted, and authors put on notice. There is no excuse for letting this kind of dishonesty continue.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Facebook is rolling out its fact checker to protect its members from fake news. Among the first debunkings is a false story of Irish being brought to America as slaves. What Facebook is doing is essential PR. It is deepening its relationship with its members through watching out for them. It is not acting like a scolding nanny but simply informing its members that independent third party fact checkers have reason to believe that a story is false. It then leaves it up to the member to accept the story or not. Some might wish Facebook to go a step farther and remove the story from its site. That might come some day but for now a warning should be enough for most readers. Conspiracy theorists will accept a story as true and reject warnings, but there is little that can be done about them.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Google is apologizing to advertisers for placing ads next to hate speech and other offensive material on the web. It is important for the company to get ad placement right because most of its income and earnings comes from advertising. Saying I'm sorry will not be enough, however. Google has to police the web and to remove the material to protect advertisers. This will take people and technology. However, there is no way Google can watch every web site all of the time using humans. It will require artificial intelligence to scan myriads of web sites where Google places advertising and a computer-based ability to recognize offensive speech. This will be a test of the company's technical capabilities and of its PR. Apologies in the future will not be enough. It has to fix the problem.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Sometimes it takes a pope to say, "I'm sorry." That is the case with the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Some Roman Catholic priests took part in the murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus during an ethnic uprising that claimed 800,000 lives in three months. It was a savage bloodletting for which the bishops of the country have already apologized, but that wasn't enough. Pope Francis has asked the Rwandan president for forgiveness for the actions of church members and from a PR perspective that is the least he can do. There was no justification for the violence and even if there were a bonafide reason, a Catholic priest should have had no part in it. These were men who had forgotten their position as religious. The Roman Catholic Church will take many years to live down the slaughter and well it should even though it was the actions of a few rather than the majority of priests who killed Rwandan citizens. Even one priest gone rogue was one too many.
Monday, March 20, 2017
Sometimes the best of intentions are misguided. One overlooks a critical part of a program and it bites. Consider this case of a philanthropic PR campaign. Cheerios is giving away packets of wildflower seeds to help sustain the bee population, which has been decimated by Colony Collapse Disorder. There are problems with that, however. In some regions, part of the wildflower seeds are considered noxious or invasive pests. And the bees that wildflowers support are not hive creatures but other species. Other than that, the idea is a good and should have a positive effect. One wonders if the program director at Cheerios looked into all of the permutations of the campaign before launching it. It appears this wasn't done. The result is a campaign that is a half-success at best. That's a pity.
Friday, March 17, 2017
One government lie of the modern era involves flood insurance. Federal bureaucrats are using outdated flood zone maps that give a break to homeowners who otherwise would be forced to get flood coverage. This puts the program on rickety legs because inevitably massive flooding will hit zones where homeowners are under-insured. It happened already in New Orleans where the government spent billions to help recovery. Why don't Federal officials update the maps, especially in light of global warming and sea level rise? Because they don't want to put up with outraged cries of homeowners and politicians who serve them when insurance bills arrive in the mail. If actuaries properly calculated the risk of future flooding, hundreds, or even thousands, of homeowners would have to give up their seaside or lakeside or riverside dwellings and move to higher ground. It has happened along the Mississippi river where rural communities have been forced to move to protect themselves from breaking dikes. Sooner or later, flood maps will need to be updated or the flood insurance program will go bankrupt. Who needs that?