Have you ever submitted comments on pending legislation? Most of us would probably answer no to this question. But we would also be surprised to learn that we may have submitted comments without our knowledge.
Take the case of net neutrality regulation. Basically, net neutrality is the belief that all net traffic should be treated equally. In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asked for opinions on new neutrality.
The lobbying organization which wanted to end net neutrality entered into contracts with marketing firms. These firms used names from online contests, other databases, and even names of people who had died to generate comments favoring the reduction of net neutrality rules. Over 8.5 million comments were submitted by people who were not even aware they had made comments.
The other side of the net neutrality issue was also guilty of submitting false comments. A 19-year-old created a bot to generate comments from fake persons. More than 7.7 million fake comments were submitted.
Of the 22 million comments that were submitted, 18 million were fake comments. How do we know the ground truth on issues where we need public opinion? At its fundamental, the answer to the above question must begin with leaders who insist on truth finding processes with utmost integrity.
While regulations can be passed to govern the integrity of opinion gathering, these regulations can never be effective unless there is a public demand for truth seeking processes. Public demand for truth has eroded when social media conspiracies have as much credence as serious efforts at gathering public opinion. When “news” channels peddle misinformation to gain ratings, public opinion is shaped by influencers for whom truth has no value.
What is needed is a public opinion process based upon the best practices of the private sector. No company would launch a new product following the same process as government organizations use in seeking public opinion. Those in the data slants profession describe the public comment process used by government agencies as an invitation to commit fraud.
Just imagine how our governmental leaders might respond to how if they knew how the public really feels about an issue? Just imagine what might happen if truth seeking became a cherished value by those we elect? Just imagine how we might view the role of government differently if we had a process for seeking public opinion that truly reflected what the public thinks?
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“Tomorrow’s greatest leaders are those with the courage to face reality and help the people around them face reality.
– Ronald Heifetz (Founding Director of the Center for Public Leadership – Harvard University)