Take action now:

Selecting user questions with a popular vote

Several organizations have launched websites where visitors post questions to be answered by politicians, and then a popular vote is used to choose the questions which are asked. All of these systems are basically scams: they're designed to fail, and they allow weak questions to rise to the top while tough questions languish.

For a tangible example of that, MoveOn used their membership list to vote a question for Barack Obama to the top of the list of possibilities, and it was asked of him in a televised debate. The incredibly weak question was about net neutrality, a topic he was already on record as supporting. In fact, a very basic search had his position on that topic as the first hit. In other words, it was a complete setup, a Soviet Union-style sham.

And, something similar happened with the same effort another time.

Now, of course, all of this depends on how you define "failure". If the goal is to have politicians asked tough questions or be confronted with their lies, these systems are complete failures. However, if the goal is to have politicians asked open-ended questions that they can answer with ease, then these systems work remarkably well.

In almost all cases, the questioners seem to have spent very little time anticipating likely responses, and as a result almost all of these questions can be answered with stock boilerplate. And, in almost all cases, the questioners don't seem to have researched the previous statements of those being questioned. Part of that may be a form of conditioning: most people have only seen the weak questions asked by TV newsanchors and the like and aren't familiar with tough questioning.

Make no mistake: politicians are quite happy with this setup. Since many of them are lawyers they have little trouble offering a vague answer that sounds like it answered the question. It provides a show, a verisimilitude of a debate. From the standpoint of many questioners, it offers an ego boost; perhaps those who offer weak questions should consider the ego boost of actually doing a public service.

The alternative to such systems is to have a set of known quantities (pundits, bloggers, etc.) vote on questions based on their toughness. And, all their votes will be public. Using that system, those known quantities will risk losing credibility if they vote up weak questions or vote down tough questions, they'll put their reputations at risk. For instance, a transportation policy expert will lose credibility if he votes down a tough question he disagrees with at the same time as he votes up an Obamagirl video.

Last modified Dec 15, 2008
Discussed in (click each link for the full post):

Reddit Ask Me Anything of Obama was OK, if you want to enable the corrupt establishment - 08/30/12

... here, see the entries on the popular voting systems page. Youtube, Google, and others have all engaged in what amounts to a scam and an attempt to make sure that politicians aren't held accountable. We get enough "enchanted" questions [4] from the establishment media, others need to step up and do the job the media refuses to do. If you're a fan of the political class and you want them to be...

Fox News/Youtube GOP debate, September 22, 2011 (Perry, Romney, Bachmann...) - 09/22/11

... past examples of bogus debates; popular voting systems for an explanation of the flawed system Youtube uses to choose the questions that are asked; Youtube corporate and Google corporate for past bogus debates they've been involved in and their other political activities; and each of the names in the last paragraph. UPDATE: I only saw the immigration portion of the debate, and that was just as...

Jack Dorsey of Twitter asks Obama very weak questions (AskObama, Will Wilkinson, Steven Norton, Kara McGuire, Dorrine Mendoza, Raman Chadha, Karl Smith, Kim Quillen, Drew Cline) - 07/06/11

... the past, see bad questions, popular voting systems, CNN, debates, Youtube corporate, Google corporate, Facebook, and Steve Grove. For the other side of things, see my guide to asking politicians tough questions and the question authority plan. My Failed Attempt to Make this Work Note that six days before this event I posted a plan to make AskObama work, but I didn't get any help with that from...

AskObama: did Steve Grove choose an unpopular immigration question because of Voto Latino? - 01/28/11

Yesterday, Steve Grove of Youtube interviewed Barack Obama with a series of questions that users had submitted through the "Ask Obama" event. The Youtube interview was a scam; see that link for the details and the backstory. To further drive home just how much of a scam it was, Grove appears to have undercut the implied rules of the competition by choosing an unpopular video as the only question...

Another Youtube/Obama scam: ask State of the Union questions - 01/26/11

... Obama, Youtube, and others on the popular voting systems and Youtube corporate pages. If you don't agree that such systems are scams, see those pages and the past examples. I submitted the following three questions to their immigration category; I'm not even going to bother suggesting voting them up because I know they'll never get enough of a vote differential between up and down. For instance...

Google Moderator finds its level: choosing questions for a puppet - 09/25/10

... are invariably weak. See the popular voting systems page for a longer description and examples stretching back years. No Google Moderator-style system has ever held a politician accountable or forced them to answer the tough questions that the media refuses to ask. Instead, all of those systems have just resulted in questions one or two small steps up from "boxers or briefs?" If you want to hold...

How to use Google Moderator at Youtube: very carefully - 05/28/10

Youtube now lets video uploaders create Google Moderator polls attached to their videos; Moderator lets users submit questions (or comments) and other users can vote up or down those user-submitted questions. In the past, Google Moderator and similar systems have been used by politicians to avoid being asked tough questions, and those who take advantage of this new capability need to make sure to...

GOP's "America Speaking Out" is worse than just a joke - 05/26/10

... McCarthy). Like YouCut, it's based on popular voting systems and lets users submit and vote on ideas in a limited set of categories.

YouCut: another stunt showing that the GOP has run out of ideas (Eric Cantor) - 05/19/10

A week ago, GOP House Whip Eric Cantor launched "YouCut" (republicanwhip.house.gov/YouCut), an attempt to show that the GOP is serious about spending. Except, it's just another tea parties-style cheap stunt:

Tea party "Contract with America" considers highly impractical immigration ideas - 02/04/10

... combined with the issues inherent in popular voting systems. Please see both links for a discussion of those issues. The current top five proposals in the immigration category are impractical, and supporting them would not only not solve issues with massive/illegal immigration but would give their opponents yet more ammunition to use against them. These are drunk-in-a-bar ideas, not serious...

Steve Grove asks Obama weak questions live on Youtube ("Your" Interview with the President) - 02/01/10

... weakest questions to rise (see popular voting systems). Youtube then chose the ones they wanted to ask from among those. In other words, it was a complete setup just like all the other setups they've been involved in; see the Youtube corporate page for a partial list. And, I'm saying all that without having seen one minute of it, and I know I won't be wrong. A roundup from the Washington Post is...

Google Sidewiki: mostly worthless for showing how political sites are lying or misleading - 09/23/09

... it was designed to work. See popular voting systems for previous examples, including those involving Google and Youtube.

DHS wants your input on immigration policy, terrorism, FEMA - 08/03/09

... administration has a habit of running popular voting systems - flawed systems that allows weak questions and proposals to rise to the top - and they're back with another one. This time it's concerning immigration policy and the other issues in the DHS's purview. They want your input at homelandsecuritydialogue.org Following a generic "Mission vision Statement", they list their goals [1] and that...

Youtube helps Obama find useful idiot questioners for his healthcare town hall - 06/29/09

... past couple of years; see the popular voting systems summary for the background. Basically, the president of the U.S. is trying to fool people, and a private company is helping. In the current case it's even more obvious: they'll only choose "some" of the questions, and how exactly they're determining popularity isn't spelled out. In brief, Youtube is going to choose videos that are basically...

Obama wants your ideas on transparency, open government - 05/23/09

... always the best ideas; see the popular voting systems summary. However, there are less than four hundred items submitted so far, so finding good ideas isn't as difficult as it was with those other efforts. And, as could be expected, the potheads are out and about, although better ideas (relatively speaking) are currently far ahead of their loopy plans.

Obama "Citizen's Briefing Book" has no immigration suggestions - 05/11/09

... illustrate yet another downside to popular voting systems. In fact, three of the five questions in the Homeland Security section should have been at the least recategorized. In a couple other categories, the pot and poker fans got top billing. And, all the items have a distinct MoveOn flavor to them. On a related note, the Office of Public Liaison is now the Office of Public Engagement. Both are...

Sen. Blanche Lincoln thanks you for your input on the SAVE Act, will be in touch - 04/11/09

On the attached video, Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln responds to citizen input on the SAVE Act and her related push to increase volunteerism. This is part of the Youtube effort called "Senate Hub" in which users submit questions which are then answered by various senators (youtube.com/user/senatehub). At post time there doesn't appear to be much happening there; no questions are viewable...

Obama's "Open for Questions": even MSM notices how bad it was - 03/26/09

... system he used are covered in the popular voting systems summary, including a brief description of a better way to do things. As predicted, the questions were weak. However, on the plus side the mainstream media or at least the online version of same appears to be catching on to the flaws in the voting system that was used, with John Ward Anderson of The Politico offering "Pot-related questions...

Why "Ask the President" will ask Obama worthless questions (Ari Melber, The Nation, WashTimes) - 03/22/09

... Pravda, start cheering now. See the popular voting systems summary for past examples of other shams - including those perpetrated by those behind the current effort - and for a description of a better way to do things. And, believe it or not, it gets even worse. Over to Ari Melber of The Nation introducing the plan in "The People's Press Conference" (thenation.com/doc/20090406/melber): After...

Got a question for John Boehner? (Digg, until 1/22/09) - 01/21/09

... suffers the same flaws of all popular voting systems: the weakest questions will rise to the top. Thus it is in the current case. While it's still too early to tell just how bad it will be, the potheads have made yet another appearance, asking a weak question about marijuana which is now in the lead. The other questions are just as bad and will generate a stock response. Unfortunately, my Digg...

The "Citizen's Briefing Book", the latest Barack Obama scam - 01/16/09

... the same flaws common to all popular voting systems: the weakest questions rise to the top while the tough questions languish. Certainly, Barack Obama's minions are good enough technocratic that they realize that. They know exactly what's going to happen, and they could easily use a better system if they really wanted the best ideas to rise to the top. I do recommend submitting ideas, especially...

Change.gov Round 2: Ask Obama stupid questions, get stock responses - 01/13/09

... (change.gov/newsroom/entry/open_for_questions_round_2_response). As with other popular voting systems, it was designed to fail, with weak questions being voted up while tough questions (such as the ones I submitted) languishing or being voted down (my vote totals at that link). What might have worked is if people had submitted only a small number of very tough questions and voted those up....

Andrew Revkin/NYT: 11 weak science questions for Obama (dot Earth) - 01/02/09

... in such an approach; see the popular voting systems summary for more. The questions were also linked by Insty, which shouldn't be much of a surprise since he's never shown much of an interest in asking politicians tough questions: pajamasmedia.com/instapundit/65087/

More immigration questions for Barack Obama (change.gov Open for Questions) - 12/29/08

Barack Obama's change dot gov is starting round two of their "Open for Questions" scam (why it's a scam is explained here) where they solicit questions from the public at change.gov/openforquestions. In addition to re-submitting a question I asked in the first round, I just submitted four more. As before, I was greatly hampered by the 250 character limit, causing much editing. However, these are...

Obama releases "answers" to change.gov user-generated "questions" (420, dude) - 12/15/08

... predictable; see the discussion of popular voting systems. First, my question - tougher than any of the others I saw - got 17 up votes versus 13 down votes. Since the question is fact-based, one wonders why 13 people didn't think Obama should have been asked it. Reading these questions is making me weep for our Idiocracy. This is the most popular question: "Will you consider legalizing marijuana...

My change.gov question for Barack Obama (in-state tuition for illegal aliens) - 12/11/08

... shares the same flaws as other popular voting systems and is thus little more than a scam designed to fool people into thinking that Obama will answer tough questions. As a test, I (using the same Robert Bellaire pseudonym as I used at MyBHO) submitted the following question. Due to character length limitations I didn't include as much supporting information as I would have wanted: You support...

New Obama scam: visitors vote for questions he'll be asked - 12/10/08

... same huge design flaw as other popular voting systems in which weak questions are pushed to the top while the questions he should be asked are ignored. In fact, he has experience with such a scheme, where a weak question from the 10Questions group was asked of him after MoveOn asked its members to propel it to the top of the list. For instance, MoveOn has three million or so members. If a...

Wikipedia is a good, credible source for one thing at least - 11/09/08

In the past, I've been extremely critical of Wikipedia and I still consider them, among other things, as a source of disinformation. In fact, if you're reading this as a single post you'll see that I have a site just about them. However, there is one good thing I have to give them credit for. Actually, two things: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:LargeBreastCleavage.png Sadly, the provider of...

eCitizen's "Ask the President-Elect": yet another setup? - 11/07/08

The eCitizen Foundation (ecitizenfoundation.org) has launched the "Ask the President-Elect" Project, where regular citizens can submit video or text questions for Barack Obama. The questions that get the most votes will then be asked of our new president or his transition team, with three of the top vote getters being flown to MIT for a live event. And, it appears to be as much of a setup as...

Open Debate Coalition: a failed format for fake debates - 09/26/08

The "Open Debate Coalition" - a group consisting of people such as Glenn Reynolds ("Instapundit") and Stanford law professor Larry Lessig [1] - is calling on John McCain and Barack Obama to open the presidential debates by allowing questions chosen by regular people and not just the MSM. However, what they support has not only been proven to be a failure, but two of the signatories helped show...

10Questions.com is a horrible idea, here's *more* proof - 11/21/07

10 Questions.com lets people vote on their favorite questions for the political candidates, which their MSM partners (NYT and MSNBC) will presumably try to get the candidates to answer (two have already come in: youtube.com/profile?user=10ques). My issue with the site is that it allows those who can drive traffic to the site to propel weak questions to the top; this allows partisan hacks to avoid...

Janet Murguia/NCLR misleads to support illegal immigration (Kansas City, Minuteman issue) - 11/04/07

The National Council of La Raza ("The Race") is an extremist-funding group that in turn is funded by large corporations [1] that profit from illegal activity. Senator Chris Dodd even wants to give them millions of dollars. They recently pulled their 2009 convention out of Kansas City, MO because a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps was appointed to that city's Parks Board. Local Hispanic...

10Questions.com is a horrible idea, here's proof - 10/29/07

10Questions.com is a new site that aggregates Youtube and similar political videos and allows visitors to vote on their favorite. The top 10 will then be asked of the presidential candidates, with the candidates then asked to upload replies. The site is co-sponsored by several blogs as well as the New York Times and MSNBC.

Tech President/10 Questions: is it meant to work in the first place? - 10/17/07

This site "techPresident" (techpresident.com) has launched a new feature called "10 Questions" that's highly similar to the existing site Community Counts (one of those behind CC is involved in 10Q).