In Our Opinion: Council doesn’t need AI software to tell them people are ticked

People are mad at the Oak Harbor City Council for wasting money on the sewage treatment plant, which was millions over its original price tag.

And what was the council’s response? To waste more money on a software company that will tell them that people are mad at them for wasting their tax dollars.

What’s more ridiculous? To do it, the council is using federal CARES Act funding, money better used elsewhere.

Last week, the council showed tone-deafness by hiring a company called Zencity on a $15,000, one-year contract — and that’s after sizable discounts. The company advertises that it “utilizes AI (artifical intelligence) to analyze resident feedback and deliver actionable insights that help governments prioritize resources.”

In other words, the software combs Facebook to figure out if people are complaining about the city.

To be fair, $15,000 isn’t a large amount of money in terms of city spending, and the reports will undeniably be interesting. People with an interest in local government should be encouraged to speak up and their comments are valuable, but social media posts should be taken with many grains of salt. It shouldn’t cost thousands of dollars to figure it out either.

Studies show that online commenters are predominantly males with a lower level of education and lower incomes, according to studies by Pew Research and several media organizations. All demographics should be considered when deliberating government policy decisions.

Angry keyboard warriors hiding behind computers screens already have too much power in society. They’ve driven away many reasonable people from online spaces who dare to share an opposing viewpoint.

That being said, Whidbey Island is fortunate to have many brave, social-media-literate individuals who educate themselves about local issues and make their opinions known without resorting to insults, name-calling, intimidation, threats and nonsensical memes.

Zencity said it is pre-qualified by the government to receive CARES funding, apparently because its service provides information that can be used to guide the pandemic response.

Perhaps in a larger community this information could point to problems like confusion about rules or misinformation that’s being spread.

But in a small city like Oak Harbor, it doesn’t seem necessary to have a computer algorithm either to explain the obvious to public officials or to provide “actionable” information that only represents an angry few.

More in Opinion

In Our Opinion: With candidate filing week at hand, it’s time to run for office

The outcome of this year’s election could have a significant impact on… Continue reading

Sound Off: Rethinking proposed bans on natural gas

By Don Brunell Sometimes being first isn’t good. Such is the case… Continue reading

In Our Opinion: Disputes unmask extent of misinformation, confusion about face coverings

Together with social distancing, donning a face covering is proven to be… Continue reading

Sound Off: State’s military, economy rely on Super Hornet funding

Washington state is an important state for our country’s Armed Services and… Continue reading

In Our Opinion: History of Whidbey Island law enforcement is one of reform

Whidbey Island residents are lucky to have the professionally run law enforcement… Continue reading

Sound Off: Climate on the agenda this year; carbon tax should be too

A few weeks into the new administration, the federal government is off… Continue reading

Smaller, safer nuclear reactors in works for Hanford reservation

It isn’t often we hear good news from the Hanford, but the… Continue reading

Sound Off: Workshop a chance to learn about racist societal structures

As our nation struggles with current and past racial injustices, it is… Continue reading

In Our Opinion: Deer Lagoon Grange’s membership should be open to all

The Deer Lagoon Grange has become an unlikely focal point in the… Continue reading

In Our Opinion: Seek public input, avoid consultants in spending stimulus money

It appears that government officials on Whidbey will have a lot of… Continue reading

In Our Opinion: Central Whidbey location is right for homeless shelter

Since 2017, the Haven has offered a warm, safe place to sleep… Continue reading

Sound Off: Working to strengthen WhidbeyHealth’s financial position

The declaration of a global pandemic was made just over a year… Continue reading