Monday, September 22, 2014

A Fact Checker for Social Media?

I have to confess – I am now using social media outlets as my first source of information when I’m needing updates or just breaking news. I’ve consumed it readily and rapidly without exercising much discretion. Recently, however, I’ve come to realize that perhaps we need a fact checker as I believe the levels of manipulation (yes, I’ve intentionally used that strong and powerful word) have reached new highs (or is that lows?) in an effort to play on emotions and get folks polarized while being denied the whole truth. Now, you might argue that people ought to be more discerning and use multiple sources, but for many the harried pace of life means the “news” comes in the easiest, most convenient format. And what’s easier than a 140-character tweet? Couple that with the emotion of the moment, and the veracity of the comment becomes less important than the comment itself. Using data that might fit for an extreme situation, sharing half-truths, passing on rumors, and name distortion were all in full view recently. None of which serve to elevate the debate and allow the focus to be on genuine concerns. That’s the real loss in the world of quick opinions and choosing camps.

In the absence of a fact checking option, perhaps it might be wise to revisit what I used to do before the explosion of social media. I had a file labeled “letters never sent”. At times, my emotions and upset at a current event or individual would get the best of me and I would write a torrent stream largely driven by emotion and often biased by my own views of the world. The process was remarkably therapeutic! I also knew at the end of the crafting of my marvelous tome, it was best to sleep on it. More often than not, the passing hours allowed for a clarity that was previously missing, to calm my emotions, lift the fog off my thinking, and allow for a more productive solution to appear. Over time the file did grow, and after a time lag, many of the letters were shredded. I preserved some relationships that would have been lost, or at least severely compromised, that were important for my work and me.

I realize that the world is demanding much more instant solutions and instant viewpoints. While that may feed the “social media monster”, I have serious reservations about the long-term ramifications to our productive thinking and creative problem solving. Emotion should not come at the price of passion.