It Might Be Too Good To Be True

Social Media Sites Can Facilitate the Spread of False Information– Image courtesy of NPR

We live in a time when the President of the United States can instantly deliver a message to almost 50 million viewers using Twitter, news agencies race each other to see who can break news faster, regardless of the validity, and false claims can go viral and wreak havoc in a matter of minutes. This haphazardness of news and information has led to an era in which it isĀ some how not that strange for public leaders to be arguing about the subjectivity of facts.

This is why it was a relief to read about a team of astronomers from Arizona State University and MIT which spent two years double-checking data which would indicate a huge scientific discovery. It was shocking to me that the team’s immediate reaction was not excitement, but skepticism.

Skepticism, in my opinion, ought to be anyone’s first reaction to news, especially news which is surprising or currently breaking. Because of platforms like social media, where information is reproduced and spread at lightning-fast rates, a dangerous climate has formed of click-bait articles and misleading titles. It has even recently been discovered that on Twitter, false news spreads faster than true news.

Because of this, it is paramount to the success of the modern public relations professional to fact-check and research before relaying information to the public. Ironically, in this day and age, the back lash for being exposed for spreading false information tends to be extremely harsh.

As the team of researchers proved with its extensive fact-checking, true news can still be exciting. When thinking ahead to how I might ensure my client is informative as well as entertaining, there are a few strategies that come to mind. One of them is to lower the frequency of news, as conserving news releases may preserve the luster and excitement of the news itself. Furthermore, there are tactics that I can adopt such as using info graphics and social media tools to remain compelling.

While public relations professionals need to respond quickly, the truth is more important than a race for ‘shares’ and ‘likes’.

america: numbed by violent media images?

To start writing this blog post, I headed to Google’s news section. I started typing in countries where I knew conflict was going on, looking for examples of violent images. I only needed to type in the name of one country to get what I was looking for: Syria. This New York Times article popped up first, coupled with a gruesome photo of a man carrying a boy, both of their clothes soaked with blood. The story’s good–hard to read, but good. It discusses how Syrian doctors become victims of the turmoil and destruction surrounding the country’s instability–so, you could say it’s an important read.

Still, readingĀ about these doctors and looking at the grisly photos, I couldn’t help feeling that I wasn’t upset enough about it. I don’t even know how long I’ve been hearing about Syria and the issues going on there. Truly, I don’t know the full scope of the issues. I (infrequently, admittedly) click links about Syria on Twitter, but I never feel like I fully understand what I’m reading. Maybe it’s because I don’t read about it often enough, but it’s also hard for me to connect with what I’m reading, with this place so far away from me in conditions that are hard for me to even fathom.

I think that violent images in the media are essential, but I’m disappointed in my own reaction to them. On some level, I believe that a story about Syrian doctors in the midst of a war wouldn’t be complete without a visual component. (I believe that most stories aren’t complete without a visual component.) When I saw this image, attached to the story mentioned above, I felt helpless. Most violent images leave me feeling this way, and I imagine I’m not alone. While stories are incomplete without these images, violent images leave us in a predicament. When we see a violent image, we can get upset–we can get angry, we can get sad, we can get disappointed–but eventually, we’ll feel hopeless. We do grow numb to the violent images, but I don’t think we’re being desensitized to the violence itself. I think if we saw the same image–of a bloodstained man holding his bloodstained kid–walking down the street, we’d certainly respond. Rather, we’re training ourselves to avoid the helplessness the images bring about. If we can’t do anything about it, why bother with an emotional response, right?

In short: violent images are inevitable. We live in a violent world sometimes, and the images our media outlets publish have a responsibility to reflect that. Whether or not those images (and our response to them) are good for us is another story.

media convergence & its effect on the consumer

People talk about the way media is changing like it’s the end of the world. We talk about how newspaper circulation rates are dwindling, how the 24-hour TV news cycle is ruining the integrity of the information the media gives us, how no one listens to the radio anymore–and all of these issues hold varying degrees of truth, but media convergence doesn’t mean the end of media as we know it. What media convergence does mean is innovation and a whole lot of opportunity.

Newspapers, television and radio have been around for ages. They’ve evolved and changed over the years to better suit their readers, viewers and listeners. When the Internet sprang up, they kept evolving and changing, perhaps a little timidly. Now, with the advent of social media and personal blogging platforms, we have so many options and outlets to stay informed as well as voice our own opinions. Before the Internet, news was largely a one-way street. Newspapers printed what they wanted to say with little interaction from their readers–maybe a letter to the editor or two, but newspapers weren’t about being a conversation. With social media as well as online news platforms, consumers (readers, viewers, etc.) can interact with their news in a new way. Consumers can tweet at the media organizations that deliver their news, offering commentary, praise, criticism–whatever they’d like to say. They can leave (often inflammatory) Facebook comments on links to stories. And, on websites like Medium, anyone can write their own pieces to be published and distributed on the web, covering a variety of topics.

Because new media (as opposed to traditional media) is so widely accessible to a broad audience, it can give more people platforms to have their voices heard. In a way, media convergence affects the consumer by making the consumer, in some way, part of the media. Because we do have access to the Internet and because many once-traditional media outlets are adopting a more online-friendly, digital component to their publications and broadcasts, we get news in a much more personalized, interactive manner. We can get mobile news alerts on our phones, we can like and follow pages and Twitter accounts for news organizations that we enjoy–we tailor our media consumption to our own preferences, and we can interact with those organizations. Media convergence has allowed for a conversation between the consumer and the producers, creating a more interactive experience for us as media consumers.