This Memorial Day, please don’t be an idiot…

In the spirit of Memorial Day, I want to share with y’all one thing I’m working on (but have hit a temporary wall over): it’s a site and NPO called, affectionately, “Idiots of America.”

Outside during the US Capitol during the January 6, 2021 attack on the building. (Tyler Merbler from USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.)

While I sure hope none of my friends, family members or loved ones would ever find themselves as a subject or topic [of the aforementioned web site]- and would indeed find themselves being entertained (and thereby motivated to help eliminate or reduce idiocy in America (and ‘Murica, fwiw))- these days, it’s really hard to tell the innocent victims of idiocy from those spreading idiocy…

Take, for example, the security of #voting (and the security of our votes) in the United States.

First, this is not the kind of topic that is easy to address among an audience of stakeholders- and, in my mind, we should ALL be stakeholders when it comes to voting and the running of our local, state and federal governments (including elections). But some people don’t see it that way…

Instead, some seem to look at elections as a game or as an “US vs THEM” moment- and we often find ourselves rooting for *our* team (whatever that is) to beat “The Bad Guys.”

As a politically wonky independent though (but with a small “i” as I’ve typically operated without any party affiliation), my focus during voting has always been on selecting the *individual* who I think would be the best person for whatever position is being considered.

When it comes to things like Propositions (say, for example “Prop H: Recall Measure Regarding Chesa Boudin,” the current District Attorney for the city and county of San Francisco)- I consider the context, the petition and the potential impact.

Voting in the US, though, is not simple. It’s county by county, district by district- with many, many moving parts involving many [predominantly patriotic, well-intentioned] individuals- some with party affiliations and some without.

As a techie, despite the fact that I’ve never worked directly with any specific vendors, devices or proprietary technologies native to voting or elections- I know a tremendous amount of effort is expended to ensure safety and security. And not just safety and security- but also validity and reliability.

However, as a communication professional- I understand the rhetoric, the confusion some rhetoric may cause (especially when split along ideological lines) and- hovering over everything- the role of #misinformation, not just in voting but in our discourse more generally.

Having payed so much attention to misinformation in recent years- this is the X factor I am most worried about in today’s America (and ‘Murica), and it’s why I started I Can’t Sleep Productions and Publications, LLC and Be Smarter Than A Virus, LLC.

With Idiots of America, I’d love to have a website (and accompanying campaigns, projects and resources) which highlight naturally occurring instances of misinformation while showing how that information is being addressed by a collection of media outlets (sorted, not by their political leanings- but by personality type or target market(s)). Then, in addition to the misinfo and the coverage, there would be a third (or fourth) column with context and links to objectively correct content.

Take, for example, Covid (or SARS-CoV-2, just to be specific):

In looking at current events, I’ve seen stories about case numbers and vaccines (which could technically meet an operational definition I’m running with re: “misinformation”). Imagine a website with a section about healthcare (or just Covid): current events stories would be on the left, additional context in the center with links to objectively true information to the right. A variation of this would be to add a fourth column: in this scenario, I’d include misinformation as reported by conservative and liberal sources in separate columns (again, referring to personality not politics). The resulting order (l to r) would be conservative misinfo, context, liberal misinfo, objectively true info.

Anyhoo… if Idiots of America (dot org) was already up and running, I would love to add this podcast episode from NPR Politics to stories about voting and the security of voting in America.

This story isn’t misinformation- but it does do a pretty decent job addressing some of the misinformation that is STILL being circulated- via “#stopthesteal” and similar efforts that have been intentionally designed and deployed to undermine voters’ trust.

Here’s the thing though… out of the 397 people currently categorized as “friends” of mine on Facebook, I guarantee some- possibly as many as 50%- believe the misinformation that’s being sold to them, usually along ideological lines.

As a fan of the democratic process and democracy in general- I try very, very hard to encourage people to vote- especially since I have first hand experience with people in other countries actually fighting over their *right* to vote while seeing many Americans, frankly, not giving a shit. I’ve shaken hands, though, with candidates; I’ve worked on various issues and even helped start a non-profit with the goal of passing legislation in San Francisco (and was successful, btw). I’m now on my third (or fifth) board and will likely be on many more in my time ahead. In short, voting only works when people vote AND when they are adequately informed about the issues or people they are voting for (or against).

So, this Memorial Day- as people pay their respects to fallen service members, all brothers and sisters to this combat veteran- please remember what they fought for and what they defended, and then honor their sacrifice.

My hope, though, is that Americans will honor their sacrifice- not just by downing burgers and beer, buying a new mattress or a new car- but by making a sacrifice of their own. By taking some time, just a little bit every single day, to learn about the issues and people that may make their way onto a ballot- whether that ballot is something that is part of an official election, or whether they are voting with their feet or wallets.

With that in mind… for those who may be worried about Voter Fraud in 2022, why not start by taking 15 minutes to listen to this podcast episode? Here’s something I learned just by listening:

According to research by Justin Levitt, an academic researcher on election and constitutional law- there have only been 31 credible cases of voter impersonation from 2000 to August 2014, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast during this period.

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