In a sort-of Jerry Maguire move Evan Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, told BBC Radio 4 that social media is making us dumber, pointing to the abundance of fake news and misinformation spread around Twitter and Facebook during the 2016 campaign for president. The Hill quotes him as saying:
“It is the quality of the information we consume that is reinforcing dangerous beliefs and isolating people and limiting people’s open-mindedness and respect for truth.” Williams said there is a media ecosystem that “is supported and thrives on attention.”
He blames the ad-driven media for irresponsibly promoting President Trump’s un-verified claims and statements via Tweet, which created an atmosphere of absurd reality where everyone was promoting “fake news” and blaming everyone else for it. Intellectuals called Trump supporters dumb, while Trump supporters (and negative partisans who simply did not like his opponent Hillary Clinton) built up heated resentment at being told what to believe.
Hillary Clinton also blames the media. Political journalists, she writes in her new book What Happened, “can’t bear to face their own role in helping elect Trump” by what she believes was irresponsibly promoting his Twitter statements.
Donald Trump points the finger, as well. Earlier this spring, the president at a rally blamed the media for “selectively quoting” him after the Charlottesville disaster, thereby causing additional fury among the public and extending our political and philosophical divisions.
Are both sides of the aisle blaming the messenger? Maybe. But you can’t deny that the media is driven by storytelling techniques that are designed to tap into people’s anger, fears and other acute emotions, rather than presenting a more balanced–and calming–narrative.
Do media marketers and content strategists now have a responsibility to refrain from promoting “low-quality” information?
Mr. Williams’ claim, paraphrased by The Hill, says that access to information doesn’t necessarily make people smarter. This would assume that people frequent social media sites to become smarter, which is not altogether true.
Since the media can’t suppress information based on what is perceived as “quality,” we might need to get back to good old-fashioned fact checking. Major media outlets do this from time to time (e.g. The Washington Post‘s Pinocchio Scale fact checker), but any news outlet or digital strategist should at least provide a caveat with posts that are clearly in the absurdist category.
“What you are about to read might not be true…”
“What you are about to read is a little crazy…”
“What you are about to read is actually a meme…”
Finally, for those with large audiences, we might be ready for a moral code in which we ask ourselves, “what do I hope to achieve by sharing this information?”
Selling ads and drawing attention to ourselves can’t be the answer every time.