Apolitical Archives - Page 6 of 208 - SaintPetersBlog

Florida officials: Aggressive efforts to stop Zika continue

Florida officials say they’re continuing aggressive efforts to stop the spread of the Zika virus.

Gov. Rick Scott met Monday with Miami-Dade County officials to discuss Zika preparedness ahead of Florida’s rainy season, when mosquitoes are most prevalent.

Officials said fewer travel-related cases are being reported in Florida so far this year, compared with last spring.

Officials also said state labs and Miami-Dade mosquito control operations added staff since last year’s Zika outbreak. Counseling also is available for families affected by the virus that can cause severe brain-related birth defects.

Florida has reported two locally acquired Zika infections in 2017. Health officials said both patients likely contracted the virus last year in Miami-Dade County.

Zika mainly spreads by mosquito bites but can also spread through sex.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Blake Dowling: Legal artificial intelligence

I was meeting with the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce’s Communications Committee; there was some brainstorming about session ideas for the upcoming Chamber Conference.

There were some thoughts thrown out, and quite a few comments were made. Then someone said, “how about automation and artificial intelligence.”

Suddenly, a surge of ideas and thoughts hit the room like a vicious uppercut from Mike Tyson circa 1999. All industries went into the mix: retail, auto, construction, medical and legal.

We are on the crest of a mighty wave of disruption, the likes of which the world has never seen.

That wave, my friends, is called “artificial intelligence.”

We must approach this wave head on like the wise one Jeff Spicoli (of 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High played by Sean Penn) once said, “Well Stu, I’ll tell you, surfing’s not a sport, it’s a way of life, it’s no hobby. It’s a way of looking at that wave and saying, ‘Hey bud, let’s party!’” Indeed.

I was the first (the opening act and least knowledgeable — HA!) of three speakers for a luncheon last month hosted by the Leon County Research and Development Authority; the topic was artificial intelligence.

The most interesting part of the discussion was about the legal world. The speaker dove into AI platforms that actually answer legal questions. The conversation quickly escalated to why not have AI judges, lawmakers and police?

Think about an AI cop pulling someone over. There would be no concern for their own safety, no bias. Same with a judge, no agenda, no individual interpretation of the law. Only the facts. That is unless it was an AI judge from Iran?


Lots to ponder here. Let us move into legal AI.

Each day, our world creates about 2,500,000,000,000,000 quintillion bytes of data. This data needs review and analysis. What better way to review data, than have a supercomputer like IBM’s Watson jump on it?

For example, Watson please review every piece of legal information on the web about police use of excessive force (only cases where the suspect was perceived to have a weapon) in the United States to assist with county of Los Angeles v. Mendez. This is happening.

AI research tools like ROSS are changing the game. Firms like Salazar Jackson and Latham & Watkins are on board with ROSS.

Check out their video online, it is very cool, (and see Todd’s tiny shoes)

LawGeex is another AI platform specializing in contract law. According to a CNBC piece earlier this year, CEO Noory Bechor called it “like the beginning of the beginning of the beginning,”

The LawGeex platform, Bechor said, ” it can take a new contract, one that it’s never seen before, read it and then compare it to a database of every similar contract that it’s seen in the past.”

Legal Robot is also a very cool company, promising to ensure fairness, improve transparency and allow signups with confidence. Sounds fantabulous to me.

If you are strolling down Market Street in San Francisco, stop in and say hello to their team.

There is really no way of knowing how far this will go, what massive legislative hurdles await – I am hopeful it will lead an enhancement of the legal community, but who knows.

As Hunter S. Thompson once muttered: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. This is the American Dream in action. We’d be fools not to ride this strange torpedo all the way to the end.”


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and writes for several organizations. He is available at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Psychotropic cocktail may have contributed to Facebook Live suicide

Naika Venant. Photo credit: Facebook

Part of a psychological evaluation administered to Naika Venant in June 2015 included a sentence completion test.

For the beginning stem sentence “The thing I want to do most of all is …” the then-12-year-old girl responded: “Die happy.”

Sentence tests can provide indications of attitudes, beliefs, motivations or other mental states.

Other sentences she finished: “My best friend is … I don’t have a best friend.” “The person I’m most afraid of is … nobody.” “I would do anything to forgot the time that … I made my mom cry.”

Among 3,523 pages of records recently released by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) about Venant’s history in the child welfare system — and her life — are details about that June 2015 evaluation, carried out by Dr. Terilee Wunderman.

(The trove of documents were only made public after The Miami Herald fought in a court of law to have them released and did not include a DCF rapid response report already public.)

The psychologist goes on to note that Naika was depressed, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and that her diagnosis for attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder by an earlier therapist was “not entirely appropriate” at the time.

Wunderman said, “there is much concern that her attention problems are due to anxiety and trauma rather than true ADHD symptomology.”

Because of that, her recommendation was to “re-evaluate” the 10 mg of Adderall Naika was prescribed due to the child’s already existing depression since one of the drug’s side effects is depression, “and Naika is coping with considerable depression related to her traumas … another regimen might better address her emotional difficulties,” it said on page 97 in the third installment of a final review of her foster care records.

She had, indeed, been through several traumas to that point. Naika was repeatedly molested and raped by another adolescent boy, 15, also a foster child, in a home with several other foster children, from April to December 2009 — when she was 7. She was Baker Acted once. She had endured physical abuse and had been exposed to sexually explicit material, and had inappropriately become sexualized at a young age.

In Jan. 2009, her biological mother arrived home to find a 4-year-old girl performing oral sex on Naika. Her mother beat her with a belt, leaving roughly 30 lashing marks all over her body — Naika then went into the foster care system, only to be raped by the 15-yr-old foster boy months later.

Her father was absent from her life and her mother struggled to keep the electric on when they were living together.

In all, Naika spent 16 months in foster care three different times, being placed in 14 different homes in the last nine months of her life, four alone in October 2016.

Less than a week before her mother finally gave up custody of Naika, her medication was ramped up.

By May 2016, she was taking 50 mg of Vyvanse, an Adderall generic. Another prescription had been added by Dr. Alon Seifan, page 110 notes on the third part of the final evaluation of her DCF foster care records:  25 mg of Sertraline, or Zoloft, a so-called ‘black-box warning’ drug. The designation comes from the Food and Drug Administration and is given to those pharmaceuticals deemed potentially hazardous.

In the case of Zoloft, it was found to have certain side effects, one of which was suicidal thoughts in children.

FloridaPolitics.com asked DCF about oversight of psychotropic drugs prescribed to children under the care of the subcontracted community-based care agencies (CBCs) handling Naika’s case, Our Kids of Miami-Dade and Monroe and the Miami Gardens-based Center for Family and Child Enrichment, Inc. (CFCE).

A rapid response report issued by DCF March 8 stated in ‘Finding A’ of the organizational assessment of Our Kids and CFCE said that “the child welfare professionals involved in this case were highly experienced and well prepared to perform their responsibilities; and while overall caseloads across the case management agency were slightly elevated, it did not have an impact in this specific circumstance.”

Case managers have the option to seek a second consultation after a first consultation when medication is prescribed for a child under their care. It is unknown if the CFCE case manager or case manager’s supervisor considered a second medical opinion on this matter. CBCs follow the same directives as DCF investigators throughout the state as dictated by Statute 39 of Florida’s judicial branch.

Jessica Sims, spokeswoman for DCF, said medicating a child was an issue that fell under the domain of parents, legal guardians or a court.

“The department does not prescribe medication,” Sims said by email Friday. “Only medical professionals, not child welfare employees, are responsible for the prescription of medication and informed consent must be obtained from a parent/legal guardian or the court. DCF does not determine what medication children take.

FloridaPolitics.com reached out to both Our Kids and CFCE for comment, but did not immediately receive a response before the publishing of this article.

It’s important to note because, on page 118 of Part 3 of the final review of Naika’s foster care records, Seifon made hand-written notes that Zoloft could induce “suicidal ideations” while Vyvanse’s potential side effect could be “sleep disturbance.

A question on the form asked how long the medications were to be prescribed. Seifon wrote, “indefinite.”

If a case manager had questioned any of this, they could have sought a second psychiatric/medical opinion based on both Seifon’s and Wunderman’s recommendations for and against prescriptions for Naika.

She hung herself in the bathroom of her final foster home in the middle of the night Jan. 22. (Her biological mother, Gina Alexis, had been made aware of the unfolding situation via a flurry of text messages, but she had no idea what address her daughter was at in the city if Miami Gardens.)

Seifon checked the “no” box on page 120 to a question on the same form documenting the psychotropic mix he was prescribing the child that asked, “Are there other treatment options available in lieu of administering the psychotropic medications recommended above?”

That was April 26, 2016.

By Dec. 8, Dr. Scott Segal doubled the Zoloft dosage to 50 mg daily and raised the Vyvanse back to 50 mg after it had been reduced to 30 mg.

A month and a half later Naika was dead.

FloridaPolitics.com attempted to reach Segal for comment, but he did not respond before the publishing of this article.

Naika’s case hauntingly parallels that of Gabriel Myers, who hung himself in the bathroom of his foster parent’s home in April 2009. Myers, who had been sexually molested, was also prescribed medication. He was 7 years old. His father was in an Ohio prison, and his mother was reported found unconscious in her car with drugs openly on display around her, which is how Myers wound up in foster care.

The Myers incident shook Florida’s child welfare system to its core and a special panel was formed to seek a way to better improve care for Florida’s foster children.

“Key initiatives from the Gabriel Myers Work Group were implemented and have been further improved over time,” Sims said. “The department’s office of child welfare recently organized a multidisciplinary review team that conducted more research on the procedures surrounding the prescription of psychotropic medication by physicians for children in care, and are exploring additional avenues of systemic improvement. Also, the CIRRT regarding this case outlined the need for enhanced coordination of care by providers and behavioral health professionals to ensure information is appropriately shared for the most effective level of care to be provided.”

But it goes beyond that, according to Howard M. Talenfeld, an attorney specializing in child welfare.

He told FloridaPolitics.com there aren’t enough therapeutic homes within Florida’s privatized child welfare structure to place children in with a complex set of problems, as was the case with Naika.

“Many children in foster care have serious behavioral problems resulting from the traumas of their abuse, removal from their natural parents, and then the further trauma of bouncing from one placement to the next,” Talenfeld, also the president of Florida Children First, said by email Thursday. “In many cases, foster children are medicated and  chemically restrained after appropriate placements, and therapeutic interventions are not made available to address the needs of these children by the private agencies responsible for their care.”

It’s a catastrophe that has repeated itself over and over, he said.

The attorney is currently providing Naika’s mother, Alexis, with advice, but is not representing her because he doesn’t counsel on behalf of adults.

He said Our Kids, which is subcontracted by DCF, handles home placements while CFCE, subcontracted by Our Kids, oversees the case management of those placements.

Dr. James Sewell, a retired assistant commissioner of the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement and child welfare consultant, was a member of the Gabriel Myers Work Group in 2009.

He said it was his understanding there were still significantly fewer therapeutic homes available to place children with specialized mental health or behavioral needs into for Florida’s foster children.

He agreed Naika’s case disturbingly resembled that of Gabriel in several ways, particularly the link between foster children with complex issues and the coupling of medication.

“He was too frequently shuffled from place to place,” Sewell by phone Friday. “All too frequently we put them on psychotropics because it’s easier for the schools or parents than really dealing with the problem. … We don’t adequately prepare caregivers or foster parents with enough resources to effectively deal with them.”

Another part of the problem, he said, was that DCF is underfunded with a large staff — currently about 13,000 — and the pay scales for that personnel are not competitive.

“(They) don’t pay worth a damn and the old adage, ‘You get what you pay for,’ is true here,” he said, referring to the state’s salary rate for DCF employees. “We need to make sure that the folks who are dealing with our children are the best and the brightest, and the most skilled.”

Disney CEO: ‘Last Jedi’ not changed due to Carrie Fisher’s death

Disney CEO Bob Iger says the upcoming “Star Wars” sequel has not been changed due to the death of Carrie Fisher.

Fisher completed filming her role as Princess Leia in “The Last Jedi” before her death following a heart attack in December.

Iger said in an interview at a University of Southern California tech conference Thursday that Fisher “appears throughout” the film and her performance “remains as it was.”

Iger says Disney is discussing “what could be another decade and a half of Star Wars stories.”

Iger’s remark came on the same day Disney ended speculation that he would retire this year by extending his contract one year to 2019. He says he and Disney’s board thought they needed more time to work on a succession plan.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Rape kits delayed is justice denied, Part 3

Robert Sheridan Haar

In a few weeks or months, we will learn the name of the Volusia County woman who, in 1997, had the bad fortune to encounter one Robert Sheridan Haar.

Relying upon DNA evidence, police say Haar, 22 at the time, and two of his yet-unidentified predator pals abducted and gang raped her near Mud Lake in Daytona Beach.  She was 14 years old.

To her attackers, she was just a piece of meat, a nameless target of opportunity. Today, Haar sits in a Wisconsin jail, awaiting the paperwork necessary to bring him back to Volusia County, thanks to what turned up in the 20-year-old rape kit of a nameless, helpless victim whose attackers figured they’d never see again.

Haar and two sidekicks allegedly told the teenager she would be killed if she screamed or resisted. The trio dumped her in Port Orange the next morning, when they were done with her.

She’s not done with them. “Obviously, she was very emotional, she did recall the incident very well although it had been 20 years,” Volusia County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Pat Thoman said in a news conference.  “She was definitely willing to pursue the case.”

Haar had managed to keep his DNA out of a law enforcement database until 2016, which is, coincidentally, the first time that the 19-year-old rape kit for this victim was submitted for testing.

Haar’s arrest comes as a reminder that he’s not the only person who might be decades overdue to face a grown woman with a prosecutor at her side and account for himself to the terrified child she used to be.

We can’t be reminded too often.

Florida’s public officials love to talk tough on crime, but they won’t cough up the chump change it would take to clear the backlog of rape kits gathering dust as perps remain free to gather new victims. The number of untested rape kits now stands, roughly, at 6444.

It’s an embarrassment. It’s a disgrace.

Five children used candle for ‘light and heat’ after child welfare worker ignored calls for help

A sub-contracted case manager with the Florida Department of Children and Families was arrested for falsifying information regarding the well-being of children living alone, officials confirmed Thursday.

Spokespeople for both DCF and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed Vanessa Arias, 33, was arrested Friday for lying on safety reports.

“The department has no tolerance for any individual compromising their integrity and, thereby, potentially jeopardizing the safety of a child,” Jessica Sims, a spokeswoman for DCF, told FloridaPolitics.com by email. “We immediately investigated Ms. Arias upon receiving these allegations and referred this case to law enforcement soon after.”

Arias is accused of knowingly stating erroneous information in records she had visited the home of five children in Kissimmee, roughly 22 miles south of Orlando, when in reality she had not, and further, didn’t return more than a dozen phone calls made from one of the children trying to notify her of their plight.

Lying on child welfare records is a felony offense in the state of Florida. She was booked into the Osceola County Jail, according to FDLE.

“One of the children said Arias was last in the home just after Thanksgiving of 2014,” the Orlando Sentinel reported, citing a report by FDLE Special Agent Stephen A. Brenton. “She stopped by and dropped off some Christmas cards in early December, but ‘stayed in the car because she did not like the roaches in the home.’”

The mother of the children was there only “sporadically,” a child told police. Officials confirmed the mother had been arrested for child abuse and neglect.

But Arias claimed on her Jan. 8 safety check report the children were “free from any visible signs of abuse/neglect with all their basic needs being met at this time.”

A statement by FDLE said a child made 16 phone calls to Arias in the home between Dec. 2014 and Jan. 2015, but none were returned.  A single candle was being used to provide “light and heat to the children,” the statement said, due to the electricity being shut off.

FDLE agents finally responded to the home on Jan. 18 after receiving notice from DCF.

Arias, who worked for Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services (GCJFCS) as a dependency case manager, was fired on Jan. 23, 2015.

DCF subcontracts referrals in the Orlando area to Community Based Care of Central Florida, who are the lead community-based care agency  – commonly referred to as a ‘CBC’ under Florida’s privatized child welfare parlance – over Orange, Seminole, and Osceola counties. Community Based Care of Central Florida, in turn, subcontracts out the case management to GCJFCS, a common practice with the CBCs throughout the state.

The investigation into Arias is ongoing, according to DCF spokeswoman Sims, who said a report would be released as soon as the inquiry  concludes.

Questionable practices, fraud, hidden costs: The dark side of Florida’s solar industry

Florida’s solar industry has embraced a comfortable narrative – they are the small-business “little guys” facing giant corporations, which care little about consumers and renewable energy.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. And it reveals a dark side to sunny solar.

For example, The Daily Caller is reporting on an investigation by the Treasury Department into potential fraud by solar panel companies – many receiving three years of taxpayer cash — in a case that could have “two-and-a-half times” the reach of Solyndra, the scandal that dogged the early years of the Obama administration.

Republicans U.S. Senators are calling on Treasury Inspectors General Eric Thorson and J. Russell George to offer updates on the investigation into solar companies inflating market value of their products to bolster taxpayer funding.

According to a letter to Treasury officials from Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska: “The Department recently indicated that applicants included ineligible costs or otherwise overstated the value of their solar energy investments by claiming approximately $1.3 billion in unwarranted cash grants.”

Murkowski and other Republicans have been waiting for results of the investigation, scheduled for release back in June 2015. For more than three years, federal officials investigated potential fraud by solar companies.

“Based on the information available,” Murkowski wrote in November, “we remain concerned that the 1603 cash grant program and the administration of the investment tax credits lack sufficient transparency, oversight and enforcement to protect taxpayers.”

In addition to the Treasury investigation, a recent New York Times article and reporting by the South Florida Sun Sentinel exposes Florida’s solar industry for what it truly is – billion-dollar, for-profit corporations engaging in highly questionable business practices to prey on consumers.

SolarCity, the nation’s leading installer of rooftop solar panels – and a favorite in the renewable energy sector – promotes itself to investors with a single idea, a 20-year lease to sign up for its solar panels.

However, SolarCity has employed practices that echo big-bank mortgages that led to the financial crisis and Great Recession of 2008.

Sun Sentinel reporter Ron Hurtibise uncovered other programs throughout South Florida that have cropped up over the past two years, giving consumers, particularly those elderly or disabled, a chance to finance major improvements – such as solar panels – for up to 20 years with no money down and no credit checks.

Unscrupulous contractors target many of these Floridians with promises that solar panel rebates that would “pay for themselves.”

Later, those consumers learn they have been scammed, and are ineligible for such reimbursements.

NYT journalists Danielle Ivory and Diane Cardwell also found dozens of homeowners who, over the last three years, entered long-term solar panel agreements shortly before (and sometimes after) defaulting on mortgages. More than a dozen homeowners were already in default, or with other liens on the property, by the time SolarCity sent paperwork to the government.

The situation got to the point where Mohammed Ahmed Gangat, an attorney for SolarCity, was forced to file documents with a New York State Court asking for an extension. The company was, as the Times reports, “inundated with hundreds of lawsuits in New York, and thousands across the country, all of which have named SolarCity as a defendant in a residential foreclosure action.”

A statement from SolarCity representatives clarified Gangat’s statement, saying that there were only 139 cases out of “more than 305,000 installed customers.”

Either way, the figures pose a problem: If the attorney (who SolarCity pointed out was not an employee) cited incorrect figures in his filing, he would be subject to ethical disciplinary action. On the other hand, if the number of cases is indeed “in the thousands,” SolarCity – now owned by automaker Tesla – could face a “threat to its financial performance that it has not disclosed to the government and investors.”

To consumers, the basic premise of SolarCity is simple, install solar panels and save on electric bills.

The company offers to pick up installation costs, an average of $25,000 to $30,000, and charge customers a flat rate for electricity produced by the panels, usually at rates 10 to 15 percent below that of utilities.

Customers get cheaper power; SolarCity gets regular monthly payments.

But in the past few years, SolarCity lowered requirements for entry into the program – using a cutoff 650 FICO score, considered by many to be only “fair” credit. But that credit score is assessed months before solar panels are installed, and can fluctuate considerably based upon financial situations.

As Rod Griffin, director of public education at credit reporting agency Experian, told the Times: “For a consumer with a sub-700 score, it’s likely that there are already some indicators of risk there, but not a severe one to that particular lender, I guess, at that point.”

Relying on a single credit score – one that could change for the worse at almost any time – calls into question SolarCity’s business practices, especially considering the expensive hardware that will be sitting on foreclosed homes, which could number in the hundreds (or even thousands).

Adding to the confusion are courts that will have a difficult time determining the true ownership of installed solar panels.

Of course, SolarCity is not the only solar company facing these problems, but it is one of the largest.

“SolarCity needs to contest every foreclosure to have any realistic chance of getting either paid for or the return of their solar panels,” Connecticut attorney Christopher McCormick said. After a decade representing banks, McCormick now works with homeowners facing foreclosure.

“Those panels are pretty valuable,” he told the Times. “It makes sense that the company would not want to lose them.”

In addition to McCormick, several groups have formed to educate the public on the dark reality of the solar industry.

One such website – MakeSolarSafe.com – says its goal is to “share the truth about solar energy” and help policymakers make “well-informed energy policy decisions.”

The group reveals the downsides of “net metering,” reimbursements to solar rooftop owners for electricity generation they return to the grid, which results in “a great deal of hidden cost.”

According to the website: “Customers leasing rooftop solar systems are often unaware of additional maintenance costs for which they are responsible. In fact, they are often required to purchase additional maintenance agreements with the company they are leasing from. Average panel cleaning costs can be as much as $20 per panel, costing customers with large photovoltaic systems as much as $700 per year for cleaning.”

Another hidden cost of solar power is the maintenance of the shared electrical grid, by way of increased voltage and stress throughout the power infrastructure.

Since solar energy is by nature intermittent, the introduction of solar-based electricity often causes spikes to the entire system, leaving consumers (including those not using solar) to pay the increased maintenance costs.

Massive solar corporations, questionable business practices, thousands of foreclosures and hidden costs for consumers — it is far from the “little guy” image solar groups such as Southern Alliance for Clean Energy portray the industry in its effort to expand solar power throughout Florida.

If you’re old enough to get married, you’re old enough to have a will

If you’re old enough to get married, you’re old enough to have a will, but that’s not something the Wedding Planner will tell you.

Your parents probably won’t tell you, either; it’s a statistically safe bet that your parents, your grandparents, and your wedding planner don’t have a will of their own.

Death is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. But it happens to the best of us, and to the worst. It can come suddenly, shockingly, to someone far too young. For the lucky, it comes gently, after a long and fulfilling life. Under any scenario, somebody must go through your wallet, your underwear drawer, your closets, your iPad, and figure out what to do with your stuff. Someone will look into the eyes of your dog, your cat, your bunny rabbit or your pet python and decide whether to take him home, take him to a shelter, or dump him in the Everglades.

We have enough pythons in the Everglades. If you’re old enough to have a pet python, you’re old enough to have a will.

One hundred percent of Americans will die one day, but 72 percent of them do not have a current will. Wealthy Americans are no more likely than the rest of us to have a will. And they are more likely to have a will that is out of date. In the afterlife, this’ll come back to haunt them.


Michelle Suskauer

Michelle Suskauer elected president-elect designate of The Florida Bar

West Palm Beach attorney Michelle Suskauer has been chosen as president-elect designate of The Florida Bar, according to a Wednesday press release.

Suskauer, 50, is a criminal defense attorney in a two-lawyer office in West Palm Beach. She’s married to Judge Scott Suskauer of the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County.

She prevailed over Lansing “Lanse” Scriven, of Tampa, receiving 12,993 votes to Scriven’s 10,188 votes in the first contested election for Bar president since 2011.

Suskauer will be sworn in as president-elect at the Bar’s annual convention in Boca Raton on June 23, when current President-elect Michael J. Higer of Miami becomes president. Suskauer will begin her term as Bar president in June 2018.

Of interest to Capitol watchers, she has called the work of the Constitution Revision Commission a “major concern.”

“The issues to watch closely are term limits for judges, taking procedural rulemaking authority away from the courts, and the Supreme Court’s ability to regulate lawyers,” according to the release.

Suskauer received the Serving Justice Award from the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County; the Justice Barbara Pariente Award from the Palm Beach County Chapter of the Florida Association of Women Lawyers; and the Women in Power Award from the National Conference of Jewish Women.

Suskauer’s service with the Bar includes chair of the Disciplinary Review Committee, the Communications Committee and the Annual Convention Committee.

After graduating from Boston University in 1988 with a degree in communications, Suskauer received her law degree from The American University in 1991 and went to work that year at the Office of the 15th Circuit Public Defender.

Three years later, she joined Schuler, Wilkerson, Halvorson & Williams. In 1997, she launched her own firm, Suskauer Law Firm, P.A., now Suskauer Feuer LLC.

Suskauer is president of the Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County and past-president of the Palm Beach County Bar Association and the Palm Beach County Chapter of FAWL.

Sharers rather than authors more important on social media

The person who shares a news story on social media is more important than the story’s actual source in determining whether readers believe it, a study by the Media Insight Project has found.

In a previous study, consumers said they paid greater heed to where the story originated. But the Media Insight Project, a collaboration between The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute, set up an experiment that found something different.

News organizations are keenly interested in research that tracks consumer habits in a rapidly changing media world. Facebook was the top non-television source for election news cited by both supporters of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in last fall’s presidential campaign, according to the Pew Research Center. Businesses grew to churn out false stories that people would share online.

The Media Insight Project survey showed a post on a Facebook-like social network with a health story about diabetes. The Associated Press was labeled as the story’s author in the post shown to half of the participants while for the other half, the story was said to be from a fictional source, DailyNewsReview.com. Half of the participants saw the story was shared by a public figure they had previously said they trusted, such as Oprah Winfrey or Dr. Oz. For the other half, the story was shared by a famous person they said they didn’t trust.

Fifty percent of participants said the health story got the facts right when it was shared by the person they trusted, while only 35 percent said the same thing when they didn’t trust the sharer, the study found. The pattern was nearly identical when people were asked if they thought the story was well-reported.

Participants also said they were more likely to pass the article along to their own friends when it had been shared by a trusted source.

By contrast, the original source — AP or the fictional site — made little difference to readers’ perceptions about the article.

For example, 52 percent of people said they believed that the article attributed to the AP had the facts right if it had been passed on by a trusted figure. But only 32 percent of people said the same thing when the AP piece was shared by someone less trustworthy.

“If there’s somebody I like and agree with, they can have a big influence not only in what I look at but in whether I believe it or not: ‘I trust them and I convey that trust to the news that they share,'” said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute.

While about half the people who participated in the project’s experiment could remember later who shared the diabetes article, about two in 10 were able to identify the AP or DailyNewsReview.com as the author.

The study didn’t measure non-famous Facebook friends, like your uncle or college buddy, but the implications are clear. People are increasingly getting news from their social media feeds, and the beliefs of their “friends” determine what they see regularly just like an editor who makes decisions about what goes into a newspaper.

Michael Virga, an electrical technician from Colorado Springs, Colorado, participated in the AP survey and said he was more likely to trust articles posted on social media by people he knows. But he’s also learned to be careful after investigating some material on his feed that turned out not to be true, and it upsets him to see friends share fake news.

“I just don’t look at something and take it at face value,” Virga said. “Especially now, because you’ve got too many people getting their news from the web. It’s frustrating sometimes when you want accurate information.”

Following postelection concerns about the extent of fake news, Facebook announced measures to make it easier for users to call attention to false news stories they see on their service, and is working with news organizations and fact checkers to examine suspicious stories. Some critics have suggested Facebook’s decision to identify stories as false rather than remove them is an indication they’re not going far enough.

Facebook said it also supporting media literacy efforts.

“This is an issue that cuts broadly across the social media and news industries, and we are working together to help people better understand the sources and authenticity of information before they share with their friends or family,” said Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s vice president of global operations and media partnerships. “It’s important we give people the tools to make smart decisions about content, with the goal of helping create more informed communities across the digital ecosystem.”

The project’s findings indicate that news organizations must pay closer attention to how its articles spread through social media, Rosenstiel said. They might also want to consider something that may seem counterintuitive, like sharing news by competitors in the hope that they will reciprocate, he said.

Readers “are not just your audience anymore,” he said. “They’re your ambassadors.”

Social media outlets need to better police what is spread on their sites, he said.

“If you build the freeway, you have the responsibility to make sure the freeway is safe,” he said. “You shouldn’t just say that if there are potholes, drivers should try to avoid them.”

The poll of 1,489 adults was conducted Nov. 9-Dec. 6, 2016 with funding from the American Press Institute. It used a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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