Center for Plain Language Publishes Francine Friedman Posting on Twitter and Oversimplification of Issues

A short essay by Akin Gump public law and policy senior policy counsel Francine Friedman on the tendency of social media to engender oversimplification of complex issues has been published by the Center for Plain Language, an organization dedicated to championing clear communication by government and business.

In her piece, “Good policy needs more than 140 characters,” Friedman uses President Donald Trump’s recent Twitter announcement of a new policy regarding transgender individuals serving in the military as an example of how, as she notes, “oversimplification of complicated subjects creates confusion and uncertainty,” even if one sets aside the good governance perspective—and legality—of announcing official policy initiatives or changes via Twitter.

She writes, “[L]awmaking will always be complicated, and…good policy can’t be made in 140 character tweets (or a series [of] several of them),” adding that the recent presidential campaign featured “talk of ideas that sound easy in theory, but the policy world is more complex.” Friedman points to catchphrases such as “Build the Wall, Repeal and Replace, Tax Returns Should Fit on a Postcard” and notes that “when the rubber hits the road and it is time to make policy changes, it becomes clear that things just aren’t that simple.”

Taking tax returns as an example, she points to several ways in which a straightforward topic or any of its component parts can prove to be unexpectedly complex and difficult to define in a simple way. She notes, “When enacting or implementing policy, it is important to solicit input and advice from those who are experienced in the field—and to recognize that most subjects are more complex than they initially appear…Policy inherently brings with it nuance, and nuance can’t be captured or explained in 140 character blasts.”

She closes by noting that, “in an effort to be brief, more confusion can be created. Sometimes we need complexity to be clear… Reform, be it tax reform, healthcare, or military service policy, doesn’t fit neatly on a bumper sticker, a protest sign, or even a series of 140 character tweets.”