I work in social media as it pertains to politics and economics. If one wishes to be thoughtful – and not just a demagogue – it’s a continually challenging area in which to work. The media, whether social media or more traditional kinds, has great influence on society in general, as the public narrative is often shaped by the aggregate sources of media. And here’s the rub: those media themselves come from people, with all of our biases and predispositions and opinions, even when we’re trying to be evenhanded! It is of course very easy, and very tempting, for people in my field of work to use that influence for either personal or political gain, distorting facts and quotes to support an agenda.
But even when it’s not on purpose, it still happens! Nobody ever considers facts or quotes that are not beneficial to the cause, whatever it may be. There is a constant temptation to slightly misrepresent something in order to prove how right you are or how wrong someone else is. It has become so entrenched that it often happens unknowingly. A quote may be taken out of context not to intentionally misrepresent someone, but simply because it sounds best in a certain way or because it’s more convenient to only use a piece of it. We need more thorough and fair thought, even the ability to just admit where we’re coming from.
But if you start doing my job, you quickly realize the problem: there’s no room! The world of social media demands brevity in style, and 140 characters just does not allow proper context to be built. The same is true for a 30 second TV ad or a video campaign. The point of social media (for most businesses or political groups) is to reach a large audience in a cheap and easy way. Posting things to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is a pretty cost effective method of getting a message out there. On the flipside, people go to social media to consume information at a rapid rate, so do they actually get the message? And even if they do, have you just misled them, even unintentionally? Of course you’ve simplified, but have you oversimplified? And how can you tell? After all, very rarely do people check their twitter feeds in the hopes of delving into the intricacies of political relationships or economic policies. The attention span of the 21st century American has become so short that most people would have stopped reading this reflection after the second paragraph. We’ve simply been conditioned that way by how information is presented to us.
The key to being a good steward in my area of work is found in how one lives in that difficulty. How do I effectively reach as many people as I can (knowing that their minds’ natural instinct is distraction) while not misrepresenting the truth out of convenience or agenda? In the end, I am accountable to God that I have done it to my utmost. And I pray in doing so, possibly to His Highest, even in 140 characters.
Jordan Carmichael works in social media for a not-for-profit organization. He is a member of the 2015-2016 Falls Church Fellows Program. 140 character (or fewer) comments are particularly welcome.