Susan Crawford: Kai’s a writer and edi­tor in Brooklyn with col​or​lines​.com, which has been work­ing on racial jus­tice issues since 1998. And one of the goals of the site is to give read­ers an oppor­tu­ni­ty to take action. Big ques­tion for us today, you know. All these bright peo­ple in a room with name cards and lap­tops is, what’s the action need­ed? Emily’s just called us to think about clos­ing the invest­ment gap and the under­stand­ing gap between jour­nal­ists and tech­nol­o­gists and these oth­er cir­cles I’ve men­tioned. What about action in the Yochai Benkler sense of act­ing on mis­in­for­ma­tion and respond­ing to it effec­tive­ly online? Lots of calls to action. Kai Wright is going to help us think about this from his per­spec­tive.


Kai Wright: Well, sad­ly I don’t know how much I’ll suc­ceed at that. You know, I actu­al­ly come at this with a set of ques­tions for folks here. Because before we get to the action ques­tion I have ques­tions about the broad­er prob­lem, right. So when we’re talk­ing about truth and truthi­ness and in media, I think we first have to ask whose truth mat­ters, and what are its bound­aries.

So I’ll start with an anec­dote. This must’ve been I think prob­a­bly late 2006, ear­ly 2007—I remem­ber I was at a friend’s wed­ding, an old high school friend. And he is a guy…he didn’t have a lot of pol­i­tics. You know, he doesn’t care one way or the oth­er, this left/right stuff. He’s just you know, going about his busi­ness. Had some invest­ments, was mak­ing good mon­ey, felt pret­ty good about the world. And we were hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion and I was like…money came up some­how and I said, Oh yeah, it’s tough out there, right?” This was 2006, 2007.

And he goes, What’re you talk­ing about? You’re on the moon. It’s great out there. My stocks are up. My house is worth a lot of mon­ey. Everything’s fab­u­lous.”

But every­thing that I’d been report­ing and in the net­works I was in for the past decade, it felt like a reces­sion. And that’s because I was report­ing in black com­mu­ni­ties about what was going on with homes, and what was going on with cred­it, and what was going on with jobs, and it was still in the 2001 reces­sion.

And so I tell that sto­ry to say that we both had facts, and they were both accu­rate. But the truth…where were we? And I think media, news media, has done a very poor job of includ­ing the entire truth because it’s only look­ing at a nar­row set of facts. And a nar­row set of sources.

So you know yes, we are in a cri­sis right now I think because of the fast-moving news cycle and all of us who help move it faster (present com­pa­ny includ­ed, right) on peo­ple who wish to tell lies and assert them as truth, right. That’s plain. And that is a cri­sis that we have to deal with and that we’re talk­ing a lot about here.

But I also want us to talk about how how do we broad­en the world of facts. And this is an old con­ver­sa­tion. This is not new to the Internet. How do we broad­en the world of facts? And how do we broad­en the world of facts once we know them that mat­ter?

So to take anoth­er exam­ple from the econ­o­my dis­cus­sion, robo-signing. Everybody know what robo-signing is at this point, right?

Susan Crawford: Tell us.

Wright: So what all of the attor­ney gen­er­als just set­tled with the five largest banks for the fraud­u­lent doc­u­ments they filed in courts when they were fore­clos­ing on folks in states that required a judge to approve a fore­clo­sure. That is a fact that has been out there…since fore­clo­sure start­ed. In places like The New York Times. Gretchen Morgenson has been writ­ing about it since you know…got to be ’08. And I’m guilty as well. I was cov­er­ing the fore­clo­sure cri­sis, and folks were telling me about it. But these were the set of facts as a reporter I was sup­posed to be look­ing for. The con­ver­sa­tion we were sup­posed to be hav­ing at the time was whether or not peo­ple are irre­spon­si­ble bor­row­ers, right?

So jour­nal­ism debat­ed at great length, are they or are they not irre­spon­si­ble bor­row­ers? And we all gath­ered up a bunch of facts that deter­mined whether or not peo­ple were irre­spon­si­ble bor­row­ers. But there was this whole oth­er set of facts out there in front of us that nobody weighed. Which was the preda­to­ry behav­ior of the lend­ing agen­cies.

So that then has con­se­quen­tial— And this is now how I guess we can get back to— My lens on the action’s ques­tion that I want to have is what we’re try­ing to do at Colorlines is bring more people’s facts into the pub­lic debate so we can broad­en what we’re talk­ing about

And you know, so the Web is great. This is just a 101 point, right. That because more peo­ple get to par­tic­i­pate, I have a lot of micro­phone. We can build a com­mu­ni­ty and lift them up and they can start say­ing in 2006, Hey wait, stuff’s kin­da bad out here, actu­al­ly.”

I’m curi­ous, and this is my ques­tion, is what are all of the new tools we can use to broad­en the con­ver­sa­tion and broad­en the sets of facts that are avail­able beyond just polic­ing the lies that we’re already fight­ing? What are the tools for our com­mu­ni­ty where we can broad­en the set of facts?


Audience 1: Hi, I'm Dan Schultz. I just wanted to make sure I understand. So when you say more people's facts, that has the potential of bringing up the question what do we mean by a fact here? Like does it make sense to have lots of different facts? Is truth really relative and what do we think of—

Kai Wright: So that's a great segue to Kathleen. What I'll say about it is that my assertion is not that facts are relative. There is a— I believe that things are knowable, and they can be known, and there is a critical problem right now of people trying to muddy up things that are knowable. And the nature of journalism today makes it difficult for us to do our job. This traditional understanding of our job, of policing the facts.

But there's a broader job we need to be playing in the whole sets of facts that never make it into the conversation that are definitive. So if the sets of facts that I had been seeing about the economy in 2005 and 2006 and 2007 were part of the discussion around the economy at the time, we would've been having a very different debate over… Perhaps we would have never arrived at the foreclosure crisis, right?

But the people who knew those things weren't legitimate in the eyes of mainstream journalism. And the facts themselves weren't relevant to the conversation we were supposed to be having. So how do we broaden the conversations we're having? Truth is not just about what are the fact points. Truth is about also what are we talking about in the first instance.

Further Reference

Truthiness in Digital Media event site


Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Square Cash, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.