Category Archives: Freedom of Information

DataRescue TC’s – Call to Action!!!

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right. ― George Orwell1984

With the help of a host of friends the federally produced datasets housed at the University of Minnesota Libraries will escape this Orwellian fate. The University Libraries have issued a resounding call for researches, tech-savvy coders, archivists, librarians, and “passionate community members” to share their time, skills and commitment to access as participants in the crisis-dictated DataRescue-Twin Cities project.

The goal of DataRescue-Twin Cities is to “capture and archive” the immensely valuable and irreplaceable data housed at the U of M Libraries. It’s one of many institutions participating in a vigorous national initiative now activated on university campuses, in government agencies, anywhere that the people’s data are threatened by unprecedented policies that fly in the face of science, open government and people’s right to know.

Emphasis of the call to action is on volunteers’ willingness to help rather than on sophisticated skills. Volunteers will find the job that fits from a range of options including Seeding and Sorting, Researchers/Harvesters, Checkers, Baggers, and Toolbuilders. The “position descriptions” are spelled out in detail in the call to action.

There’s much more information re job descriptions on the U of M website:

http://www.continuum.umn.edu/event/datarescue/2017-02-24/#.WK3stBIrKpg

DataRescue-Twin Cities Details:

Dates:         Friday, February 24, 1:00 – 6:00 p.m.S

Saturday, February 25, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Site:             Humphrey School of Public Affairs, 50B

RSVP to the event on Facebook!

Questions? Email datarescuetc@umn.edu

Advocates resist restraints, misuse of government information

Clearly, the challenge facing this nation will challenge most Americans in one way or another. It helps to focus – and to assess individual and societal resources within our reach. As past blog posts suggest, my tools of choice lean toward real facts, the truth and, above all, informed citizens “armed” with the tools (weapons?) of access and critical thinking tools to weigh the overwhelming flood of facts and alternative facts by and about the government.

Good information has a real advantage when it comes to weaponry – it’s agile, abundant and, as I often quote, Harlan Cleveland’s contention that “it’s better if shared.”

No wonder then, that the Commander-in-Chief is quick to grasp the potential of information and its manipulation — misinformation, disinformation, and, most recently, depriving Americans of information collected and analyzed at public expense.

We the public are at the ready to fight fire with fire, alternative facts with legitimate data, mindless tweets with authenticity, bluster with honest truth.   Seekers of truth are eager to share truth with citizen stakeholders who possess both the skills and technology to learn, assess, share and act on good and relevant information by and about the federal government.

Clearly, we have a long way to go – and yet at this juncture many Americans are keenly aware that information matters and that we have the people and the organizational power to act. Leaders of efforts to assure truth in government, transparency and accountability share a commitment to shape a powerful strategy built on truth, not trickery.

The founding fathers affirmed that the fundamental principle of this democracy is information, presumably in the hands and minds of citizens for whom government information is a mighty tool – until access is denied – or until the information tool is weaponized. That’s where we are now. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/information-and-media-not-weapons-but-tools/

The weaponization of the peoples’ information has clearly caught the attention of the public and of those advocacy groups that have galvanized their efforts to collaborate and “resist.” The most overt of action is the forthcoming March for Science, a public expression of resistance set for Earth Day, April 29. Plans for the March are also underway. – some recent updates: http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/01/politics/science-march-earth-day-trnd/\

For a half century the most powerful tool in the hands of open government access proponents has been the Freedom of Information Act. More about FOIA here https://www.foia.gov/faq.html. Follow the FOIA website here: http://thefoiablog.typepad.com

Countless advocacy groups, including numerous coalitions, are “armed for action.”

These are just a very few of the insider entities at the forefront of truth-finding:

Muckrock suggests an action plan – https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2017/jan/04/how-we-can-all-work-towards-better-foia-process-20/ [note: if you have problems with this link, google the title]

http://www.openthegovernment.org/node/5414 – offers timely updates and an excellent list of coalition members that share a commitment to open government..

Federal News Radio provides just one of countless descriptions of the backlash to presidential halts to the free flow of federal government information – in this case the news is geared to inside the Beltway audience. http://federalnewsradio.com/

A couple of recent “Poking” posts underscore and elaborate the centrality of an challenges to an informed electorate:

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/category/access-to-information-2/freedom-of-information-act-foia/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/inquiring-minds-need-to-know-thoughts-on-sunshine-week-2016/

 In a Time of Universal Deceit Telling the Truth

Is a Revolutionary  Act ~ Source not certain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Information and media – Not weapons, but tools

Informational Power is where a person possesses needed or wanted information. This is a short-term power that doesn’t necessarily influence or build credibility. Vivian Giang

The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses. Malcolm X

The fact is, information and media are unique and powerful tools, to be wielded by sentient creatures for good or for evil. When the American Library Association was promoting the “information power” theme years ago I worried at the value-free assumption that the information would be put to good purposes. And when we hyped the potential of the communications media, from cable to the web, I wondered more….

My skepticism is affirmed today as we experience the reality of information and communications expertise brilliantly coupled to disrupt our democracy.

This should not be news. It was either Mark Twain or H.L Mencken who advised his readers to “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.”   The technology, but not the meaning, has been updated here. http://www.adweek.com/fishbowlny/ink-by-the-barrel-on-the-internet/252889

But that’s a diversion from the real fact – that the administration has effectively wed the power of information with the power of the media to shape reality.   Those in power wield information as a sword to silence, to pervert, to foment, to shape, to craft alliances and to conceptualize, then propagate, alternative truth.   We who are but “subjects” are ill-prepared to meet the challenge; we lack, or fail to unsheathe, the information/communications skills and attitudes to withstand the onslaught.

And still it is a real fact that we are not a passive people. The Women’s March and forthcoming March for Science clearly reflect our power to harness the human power to resist.

The first line of resistance to alternative facts is well-meant but knee-jerk –- placing blame and responsibility on the communications channels, or even the sources, of misinformation and disinformation is short-term and futile.

We are challenged to fully accept that information and communications technology have been “weaponized” – and that it is incumbent upon us to “arm” ourselves. We need to assume the responsibility to become critical thinkers – and to shape a learning environment that enhances the critical thinking of future voters, including both youth and future voters.

We can’t fall for the press-bashing and post-truthiness cleverly designed to divert our focus and our energy. Instead, we need to embrace the challenge to seek the truth and to stand firm when it is information is thwarted, perverted, suppressed, hidden from public view – or is not collected in the first place!

Thomas Jefferson, a man who dealt in truth, had this to say on the subject

Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.” –  Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789

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Related posts – Selected:

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/marchers-will-support-research-science-real-facts/#respond

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/discovering-truth-starts-with-independent-thinking/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/creating-a-culture-of-encounter-some-info-tools/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/relax-learn-then-resolve-to-resist-post-truth-thinking/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/information-literacy-universal-challenge-of-the-digital-era/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/information-literacy-curriculum/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/national-information-literacy-awareness-month-2016/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/11/19/facing-the-facts-about-facts/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/scrubbing-history-scrapping-the-facts/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fake news – The post-truth needle has moved – Now what?

Post-election public awareness of the depth and breadth of fake news is growing by the hour. The recent BuzzFeed blast (https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/the-strangest-fake-news-empire?utm_term=.gmdrXdGXg#.oc7BJQpJw) brings the pernicious practice into the daily lives of masses of the general public are just now feeling the pain.

If there is any hope it lies in the fact that the explosion sparks a flicker of hope that the current torrent of public awareness may lead to action – including a heightened level of “perceptive paranoia” among news consumers. For now, the communities bamboozled by the false claims of high profile neighbors-to-be are injured, insulted and enraged.

Meanwhile, in the journalistic background action steps are underway: For starts, there is increased respect — not to mention expanding career opportunities — for fact checkers such as the truth-seekers at Ballotpedia (http:ballotpedia.org), Annenberg’s (http://www.factcheck.org), Politifact (http://www.politifact.com), the Poynter Institute (http://www.poynter.org) to name just a few. Fact checkers can’t change the original but they can inform perceptive individuals to the incipient dangers of the misinformation and disinformation.

Understandably, serious journalists are seriously exorcised.   Members of the press, appropriately outraged, have spoken out in multiple ways. These are but a few of the published critiques based on the fake news story:

In the parlance of the media mavens, the “needle has moved” on fake news. We are well in the Post-Truth Era.   In our own good time the American public has heard the poet’s message – today, fake news IS the news.

We have a public disinformation epidemic that is spreading like a vicious virus through the communications channels – formal and informal – of this democracy.  The true fact is that we have a preliminary, if not universal, diagnosis.

With all due respect for The Bard: The fault, dear Readers, lies not in the stars but in ourselves.”

Another good read:  http://www.cjr.org/tow_center/mobile_notifications_changing_new_york_times.php?utm_source=Pew

 

Facing the Post-Truth Era – Dylan’s warning, today’s tools

Back in the day, decades before the advent of FB, the prophets among us predicted the Post-Truth era. Consider Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan’s thoughts about the threat of lies and news fakery, shared in a 1963 interview with Studs Terkel. What did you think Dylan meant by when he warned that hard rain that was gonna fall? http://www.poynter.org/2016/bob-dylan-on-lies-and-news-fakery-way-back-in-1963/443058/

In the Post-Truth age countless Minnesotans have joined the chorus of fake news critics. Here are just a few samples of what the people and the media have to say:

MOST IMPORTANT: In the spirit of Dylan – and Keillor — librarians at the University of Minnesota have had what it takes to get up and do what needs to be done to counter the scourge of fake news. How do we become better citizens of information is an excellent tool for any independent learner hoping to survive in the Post-Truth Era. http://www.continuum.umn.edu/2016/11/become-better-citizens-information/#.WFb7xGVfKJU.   Check it out!!!

 

 

Facing the facts about facts

I’m telling you a lie in a vicious effort that you will repeat my lie over and over until it becomes true. Lady Gaga

There are longer, but no more compelling, characterizations of the scourge of disinformation – so serious that the sitting President of the United States brought up the subject just this week – notably at a joint press conference with German President Angela Merkel.  In that meeting President Obama spoke of the perils of  “active disinformation, very well presented.”

The heart of the matter, the President said, is that, “if we are not serious about the facts, about what is true and what is not, and especially at the time of social networks, when so many people receive the information in one sentence on their phone, if we cannot tell the difference between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have a problem.”

The power, influence and tenacity of disinformation is evident – everyone has a story of having been duped, even having shared or acted on a kernel of disinformation planted with malice aforethought to skew public perception and action. We are conditioned to believe what we read or see, particularly if the information is well presented by “credentialed” spokesperson and/or, better yet, backed up by inscrutable, and thus infallible, metrics.

Disinformation is no respecter of receiver: Did any of us believe, if just for a minute, that Pope Francis favored a presidential candidate in the recent election? Or that that climate change might be just an overblown theory? or that the CIA was somehow behind the Malayzia Airline crash? Or that Ford Motors was planning a major move to Mexico?

Back in the pre-social media day the term “information literacy” was fashioned to put a name on an emerging Information Age challenge. Last month we even offered a hasty nod to Information Literacy Month. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/information-literacy-universal-challenge-of-the-digital-era/

The fact is that efforts to build information literacy skills lag far behind the ubiquity, fluidity and instant gratification of social media.   Far more insidious is the harsh reality that the wizards of disinformation have mastered the tools to manufacture palatable lies, to present the fake information in irresistible nibbles, to package propaganda a fact — then “repeat the lie over and over until it becomes true.”

For me the spark of hope that springs eternal ignites when Gaga and Obama sound the same alarm – that the power of disinformation is real, pervasive and a threat to this democracy.

The forefathers established a nation built on the premise of an engaged citizenry.   Informed voters (as narrowly defined by the white men who wrote the rules,) would have access to information by and about their government and the skills to consider both the source and the content of information. Relevant, valid information would be communicated to the citizenry not in 140 character blips but in pamphlets, newspapers, orations, even books! http://www.constitutionfacts.com/founders-library/founders-reading-list/

Disinformation is hardly a new idea. In 1710 Jonathan Swift penned The Art of Political Lying” in which he expressed his dim view of fake information:

Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: like a man, who hath thought of a good repartee when the discourse is changed, or the company parted; or like a physician, who hath found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead.

High expectations+vigilance will preserve 1st Amendment rights

Of those to whom much is given, much is expected **

Though of disputed origin, the quote reflects my deep faith in the guiding premise of the First Amendment that affirms the fundamental role of a free press in a democracy.   The digital age presents a mighty challenge to both – in terms of role, economics, technology, critical thinking and attitudes. As the role and power of a free press is tested at this hour it behooves those who depend on the free flow of information and ideas to exercise what a wise mentor described as “perceptive paranoia”.

Journalists have spoken, perhaps most adamantly in the letter that a host of professional journalism associations have sent to the President-Elect. Because the thrust of their letter is press access to the Executive Branch, the writers note that “this isn’t about access for the press itself; it’s about access for Americans in diverse communities across the country.” To read the full text of that letter click here: http://www.poynter.org/2016/journalism-organizations-call-on-trump-to-uphold-traditions-of-white-house-coverage/439519/

Suffice to say, the press, a bit mollified by recent miscalculations, is roiled up and divided in their prognostications of what’s to come. In yesterday’s WaPo David Drezner describes the contrast between Obama’s “no drama” mantra, the “tight-lipped” approach of both Bush administrations, and that, which is to come.  Drezner concludes that, though “many will fret that this is just the beginning of an administration that will test the constraints of the First Amendment…if the past week suggests anything, it is that the Trump team will need the press just as much as it claims to loathe it.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/11/16/the-outsized-role-of-the-press-in-the-trump-administration/?utm_term=.42f3180cd910

Today the forces of information and communication technology are one and the same, the reality of which is not lost on Steve Bannon who has long worked off the grid to share information/misinformation that has clearly shaped and reinforced public opinion and voter behavior.

Lip service to a free press will not suffice today. Nor will passive inaction assure that the First Amendment remains as the core tenet of the democracy, given the prominence imbued by the founding fathers as first among the inalienable rights afforded citizens of the new nation.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That’s the story of my lofty expectations for a free press and an informed citizenry. As always, it is up to the body politic to maintain constant vigilance, even as political reality, coupled with communication and information technology, challenge our assumptions about how and why we know what we know about our government.

** The origin of the adage is a story in itself:  http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004100.html *