I happened on a link to an article about a Twitter fight. The Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times featured columnist Paul Krugman tweeted that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was responsible for 20 thousand excess Covid deaths. Krugman arrived at this figure using the state Covid death totals for California, New York, and Florida adjusted for population. Using this method, he determined that the Florida Governor was responsible for 20 thousand more people unnecessarily losing their lives in Florida because of his policies.
It is well known DeSantis reopened Florida, including its schools, rather than keeping the state locked down. According to Krugman, these reckless policies resulted in this horrible death toll. It painted the governor as an uncaring mass murderer. If true, this is quite damming for a potential presidential candidate.
Others, including economists and statisticians, immediately tweeted Krugman had made an unacceptable error. The kind that would result in a Statistics 101 student getting a failing grade. He failed to adjust for age. Anyone following my series on Covid (available here) knows 75% of Covid deaths occurred in those over 65. I always used age-adjusted figures as Florida has the second oldest state population. Failing to adjust for age gives a highly distorted picture.
Once you make the proper adjustment, the Florida death rate is comparable to California and much better than New York. Whether intended as a meanspirited false accusation or just an older person losing his grip, not refuting the allegation could harm the Florida governor.
Interestingly, it is far better to leave Krugman’s erroneous statement and let others shoot it full of holes than ban it. There is no reason for Twitter to intervene. The public set the matter straight.
This outcome made me think Twitter or other social media need not determine the truth or falsity of statements on their platforms. Allow the public to provide counterarguments, and let the people read all sides and judge.
Elon Musk and others should forget trying to be gatekeepers. Instead, Musk should foster his “Town Square” concept. In the Krugman dustup, mixing in pro and con opinion tweets with actual factual ones complicates following the controversy.
I propose anyone seeing a tweet they think is false or, as they say, “fake news” should be able to mark that tweet as challenged and their tweet as a challenge. A challenge tweet must provide facts, data, or solid reasoning. If several of these appear, Twitter should move the challenged and challenger tweets to a new Town square area on Twitter. This act should be announced and linked. The company can develop algorithms to aid it in this endeavor.
When opening Twitter, you can continue using the app as usual or go to the Town Square index and use it to find a controversy of interest. You can contribute important information or just read.
Once in Town Square, the author, supporters, and challengers can add further information, not opinions. This setup allows everyone to get their side out, and readers can decide whether it’s “Fake News” or not.
The Town Hall, sans tweets featuring only opinions, will be the go-to place to get all sides of any disagreement. Twitter makes locating controversies easy by maintaining an easy-to-use Town Square Index with proper links. Many controversial subjects, such as Global Warming or Covid, would be ongoing discussions.
Tweeter users can decide for themselves what to believe. In the Krugman instance, his original tweet and the substance-backed challenges appear together. The Nobel prizewinner can add further data, as can his challengers. Foolish tweets as Krugman’s exposed instantly to the author’s embarrassment. Hopefully, this will discourage thoughtless tweets.
Let’s see how this system would’ve worked in an actual major controversy, the linking to the New York Post Hunter Biden Laptop Story. The story was true. Facing objections from over 50+ retired intelligence people as a Russian disinformation operation, Twitter blocked linking to the story. Twitter interfered in a Presidential election, to its shame.
If we used the “Town Square” program, the retired intelligence people could list their factual rebuttal to the story. Others could link to facts and witnesses supporting the Post narrative.
Rather than stopping the discussion, we would’ve found the intelligence “professionals” presented only opinion, while story supporters could’ve linked to emails and, most importantly, eyewitness testimony.
I had no problem believing the N.Y. Post story because I had seen Biden business associate Tony Bobulinski interviewed on T.V. right after the N.Y. Post story appeared. He offered proof supporting his damming testimony. To date, not one single person has questioned his assertions.
Under this proposal, all of this would’ve been in the “Town Square” for all to see. Instead of putting its finger on the outcome of a presidential election, Twitter would’ve done what media is supposed to do, present all the information available. Surveys have shown the possibility enough people would have changed their vote if they knew the laptop and its contents were genuine.
It was questionable at the time that the mainstream media was unaware of Bobulinski. With the Town Hall Area of Twitter the go-to place to find complete information, other media outlets cannot claim they couldn’t verify facts in a timely fashion as they did in the “Laptop Case.” Either show all points or be exposed as hacks. A Town Hall up and running could stop ignoring things that didn’t fit your narrative.
Musk’s problem is he’s trying to do too much. Rather than attempting the impossible, determining the “truth” in contentious issues, he needs to provide a space where all sides can present their case. Opinions alone have no place in the “Town Square.” Remember, those 50+ former intelligence people casting doubt on the Biden Laptop only offered unsubstantiated opinions. To be in the square requires more.
Without a need for an army of fact-checkers striving to do the impossible, he’d save a lot of money, reduce stress, and remove himself from the fray. I suggest he adhere to something I learned long ago in the army, K.I.S.S. “Keep it simple stupid.”
Just as a restaurant can enforce decorum with “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rules, so can Twitter. However, monitoring dinner conversations is a no-no. Let the conversations flow.