The Cost of Speaking First May Compromise Value of Our Voice

By Jason Menard

Social networking can be a wonderful tool, but like any tool it needs to be used appropriately. It’s easy to make a façade look great, but it takes time and proper application of the tools to make the foundation sturdy – and that’s something that often gets lost in this instant gratification/first-to-post society.

It has created an interesting paradox: access to information has never been easier or faster; but access to context requires more effort than ever.

You can argue that people have more instantaneous access to breaking news and societal issues than ever before. But far too often that information exists in a vacuum – and it’s what’s in that void that can be most dangerous.

Public opinion is no longer about balance – it’s a pendulum that swings wildly from side to side dependant upon the latest Tweet or Facebook post. As access to that information gets easier, so too does the ability to interact with that information. But the price for that access to information comes at a very real cost: credibility.

We live in an environment where many are willing to lend their greatest asset – their voice – to an issue with only 140 characters of information upon which to base their stance. Immediate responses are often based not upon a thorough examination of the issues, but rather a one-sided presentation of the so-called facts.

Nowhere has this been more pronounced than with the Twitter explosion known as #stopkony or #stopkony2012. A YouTube video detailing the atrocities perpetuated by Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army – a Ugandan guerilla group spread like wildfire throughout social media channels. Based upon that video, scores of well-meaning people shared and commented on the story and lent their voices to the cause.

Then, just as quickly, the pendulum shifted. People began to question the motives and tactics used by Invisible Children, the organization behind the video. Suddenly the financial tactics employed by the group came into question, as were the presentation of the facts in the video. While not supporting Kony, many began to temper their arguments and realize that there may be more to the story. Some people, swayed by the initial video, began to question whether their well-intentioned donation was misplaced. Former London politician Glen Pearson, who has a history of working with the people of southern Sudan, summarized the issue – adding comments based upon his own perspective and experience – in the following post.

What was a crystal-clear issue only 72 hours ago has become much more blurry in nature. But what’s not blurry at all is that this issue is an excellent representation of the dangers of social media.

I firmly believe that most people have the best intentions when they share issues through their social networks. They post links because they care and they want to make a difference. Education and awareness are powerful tools and by shining a light on the darker recesses of our society, we’re able to bring issues to the light that otherwise would have not been given the attention they deserve. Before that was the role of professional journalists; now that role’s been usurped by anyone with access to the Internet.

The Internet has posed a challenge to newspapers, due to the free and immediate access to information. But issues like this highlight the true value of news media: a dedication to fair and balanced representation of the issues. A trained journalist won’t publish anything without corroboration and a multi-faced look at the story. Unfortunately, some citizen journalists choose to ignore the need for balance – and the time and effort it takes to obtain it – in the desire to have their voice heard first.

I have said it before: just because everyone can write a blog doesn’t mean everyone should. And that extends to microblogging, like Twitter and Facebook. This isn’t intended to be an elitist statement, but rather an acknowledgement of the responsibilities we all bear when we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to share our voice.

It’s easy to forward a link, share a post, or retweet a comment. What’s hard is ensure that we do so with a solid grasp of the story. Simply being amongst the first to share a story shouldn’t be enough – and it’s the difference between being a source of information and a trusted source of information.

Information is cheap; context is what has the most value. In our increasingly connected world, our voices are our greatest asset. It’s up to each of us to ensure that we remember who valuable that asset is and not devalue it in the race to lead the bandwagon.

In the end, it’s better to take the time to ensure you’re speaking with a well-rounded, authoritative voice. Otherwise, we run the risk of devaluing our most precious asset to the point where people simply tune us out.

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