FCW cartoonist John Klossner ponders a way to appeal to the greater humanity of the individuals who wreaked havoc at the Open Government Dialogue.
" I believe that there is a historic opportunity to enhance public participation, but if we lose the public audience by deploying applications that do not achieve results and that recreate smart mob behavior, simply on the Web, then the public trust will be lost and we will be back at a new starting point. The public cynicism will be reinforced, not lessened."
- Kim Patrick Kobza, president and CEO of Neighborhood America
"That's the wonderful thing about e-mail; you can write without thinking."
- Stuart McLean, host of the Vinyl Cafe
Since I last checked in on the Open Government Dialogue, the Web site has been hijacked by some single-issue groups — in particular a group that, inspired by radio talk show hosts, are claiming that President Obama is not a legitimate U.S. citizen and are clamoring for him to produce a birth certificate proving that he is. I went back to view some of their missives. I can accurately describe my jaw as being on the ground. I guess one of the byproducts of a bad economy is that folks have more time to write Web site entries and comments.
This leaves me in a professional quandary. The sheer volume of entries and comments shows that there is a large contingent (or a small, very active contingent) of birth certificate theorists. If I were to engage these viewers — by, say, making a negative reference to their genetics and / or intelligence — it would bring more viewers to FCW.com, making it more valuable to advertisers. This would make me more valuable to FCW. So you can understand the urge to insult the birth-certificate crowd and create a downward spiral of communication.
But I hold out hope that there is a better way. I can appeal to the greater humanity of these contributors and find the good in their efforts. I can, for example:
* Look for the positive. There were very few spelling mistakes in the birthers' entries.
* Find the common ground. President Obama and the birthers both share an interest in constitutional law.
* Offer them choices. Would the birthers like to obsess over a made up problem like the birth certificate or contribute to a real problem like how to have civil discourse on Web sites?
* Find more positives. It's impressive how the Open Government Dialogue site designers made it so easily accessible.
* Mirror their behavior. What are the birthers trying to hide?
* Try the therapy angle. How does parroting radio talk show hosts' words make you feel?
* Find more positives. It's not easy to get so many people to write the exact same message. This shows excellent organizational skills.
* Look for commercial opportunities. If we charged these groups per entry, we could make a dent in the federal deficit.
* Look at the big picture. It's heartwarming that so many citizens have banded together to urge the president to be better organized with his personal records.
And by the way, I've been having trouble locating my birth certificate lately, if anyone wants to start a request to see it.