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Spin and Damn Lies

The accusation leveled against communications and public relations professionals is that what they (we) do is "spin" facts on behalf of clients to evade truth. Anyone who has actually practiced the profession knows that this is in large measure stupid and ahistorical.

To quote myself (for the second time . . .forgive me again) from a previous post on messaging and spin:


"This is nonsense and I have written about it elsewhere.
Forgive me if I quote myself from that post:

Messaging to my way of thinking is
making a point of view apparent . . .  with simplicity, clarity and
force. It is an element of Aristotelian rhetoric and is the foundation of
ordinary discourse. Using it on behalf of a client to explain -- truthfully and
openly -- a point of view is much less manipulative than juxtaposing a
terrifying image with an alarmist headline. Of course, when messages are treated
as dogma they can't help but sound like spin."


Two things have led me to reprise the idea: A unique beta website (hat tip to colleague Alan Chumley for bringing it to my attention) called SpinSpotter and an article in The Globe and Mail on the 'L' word in the current Canadian and American elections.

SpinSpotter is "a website and software tool that exposes new spin and bias, misuse of sources, and suspect factual support." You turn on SpinSpotter and it will flag words and phrases in an article that evidence bias, are just recycled phrases from a press release, or favor slant and opinion to reporting. What constitutes "spin" is defined by an advisory group of journalists assembled by the SpinSpotter folks. A computer algorithm allows all users to contribute to the knowledge base of "spin". And truth mongers can share with others their own "spin markers" when they come across an egregious example of the uniquely subjective writing that sometimes passes for reporting today. 

The Globe and Mail story talks about the Democratic Party launching a 'Count the Lies' site which keeps a running tally of the number of lies John McCain tells during his campaign. This may seem redundant since political campaigns are about power not truth, and truth (like civility and decency) is easily sacrificed in politics. But at least the Democrats have given political campaigning its true name.

I love both because they are small proofs that social media and and the web encourage the democratization of ideas and facilitate honesty. And if you need further evidence, Jeremiah Owyang at Forrester has developed (although it isn't clear from his post if he is the progenitor of the concept) a protocol for using Twitter to score the candidates in the first presidential debate on September 26th.

His scoring guide looks like this:


-3 for a personal attack

-2 for a false statement

-1 for avoiding the issue, or not answering the question

+1 for a successful assertion

+2 for a successful counterpoint to opponents assertion

+3 Quotable sound bite




Short Sellers as Reputation Watchdogs?

"Transparency is a judo move"