Gold or Filthy Lucre — The Politicking of Information

By Jay Menard,

When it comes to choosing for whom I want to vote, I take my cues from the Bard of Mersey, because more and more it’s getting harder to know who you can trust.

In John Lennon’s song “God,” he lists off a number of things in which he doesn’t believe, ranging from religions to politicians to philosophies to musicians. At the end, he quietly intones, “I just believe in me.”

John follows that up with “Yoko and me. And that’s reality.” And since Yoko’s not on my speed dial, I have to trust myself. In today’s world, that’s an even more challenging proposition.

Thanks to social media and the Internet, we have access to a wealth of information. But that wealth has vastly different values – ranging from pure gold to filthy lucre. And, sadly, there are far too many snake oil salesmen and women promising one thing, but working only in their own interests. We have access to more information than ever, but that doesn’t mean the information is better.

Ultimately, it’s up to us to put in the effort to filter the black and white truth from the wide range of coloured perspectives out there. But a little honesty would be nice — even if it’s honesty about one’s slant.

With the move of traditional media from providing information to entertainment and commentary, it’s important to recognize biases. But even that can be challenging. Not every bias is a clear as Fox or Sun News (to the right) or the CBC (to the left). The alleged neutrality of news outlets can be compromised by their own employees — non-political writers using outlet-sponsored social feeds to selectively comment or castigate political opponents.

At the micro level it’s even more challenging. From citizen journalists to think tanks to community groups, neutrality is often a facade, but there are frequently biases embedded in the foundation.

Does this mean we’re not entitled to opinions? Far from it. In fact, it would be dishonest to present ourselves as completely unbiased. But if you’re going to share information designed to sway opinion, ensure you share the whole story. If you are actively supporting a party or candidate (or actively opposing a party or candidate), you have a moral obligation to share that fact. If you’re a card-carrying big-C Conservative, big-L Liberal, or big-N NDP supporter, that’s an important fact to share.

The fact is, for the average, non-politico type who just wants to cast an informed ballot, the amount of information is overwhelming. Most people aren’t intimately connected or aware of backstory or bias. Instead, they come honestly looking for information. And they should be entitled to view and interpret that information using the proper perspective.

Ideally, everyone would use a three-point vetting process when interpreting information — a simple who, what, and why.

  • Who is sharing the information? (What is his or her background, affiliation, potential agenda)
  • What are they sharing? (Often, this can be balanced by ‘what are they not sharing.’ Is the information one-sided? Does one affiliation receive an imbalance of positive or negative information?)
  • Why are they sharing it? (Again, is there an agenda? Is there a purpose behind the sharing [or not sharing] certain items?)

And it’s fair to retroactively analyze content provided. If someone has been writing from an allegedly neutral platform, but then comes out in support of a party or candidate, then it’s fair to revisit the alleged neutrality of the previous pieces.

But we know the average person won’t do that. It’s hard enough to get people out to vote. I have personally heard too many people spread untruths about candidates — especially at the federal level — because it’s what they ‘heard.’ And many people bank on that misinformation spreading. It’s easy to talk in soundbites or spread catchy names, because it focuses the totality of one’s experience on a key, differentiating issue.

Where’s the balance? Should your opinion a candidate that may have done 99 acts that benefit you (but you haven’t heard about) be coloured by one act that the opposition wants you to focus upon for their own agenda?

Maybe it should; maybe it shouldn’t. But it often does. Why? The politicking of information works because of people’s indifference.

Voting is easy. Casting an informed ballot? That’s hard work. And while we all have the right to vote, we have a responsibility to take the process seriously. Some choose to take that responsibility to heart; others choose to exploit it.

The goal of politics should be transparency. If you have an agenda or goal, have the courage of convictions to stand behind it. Let people you’re trying to educate make decisions that are in their best interest — using information you provide, but framed appropriately.

Personally, I never make up my mind until the end of the campaign. There are candidates I like, but I could never join a campaign, because I just can’t drink the Kool-Aid. Things change, issues develop, new information comes out. I believe in using the totality of the campaign to form my opinion.

And while I may tell you who I like, but I won’t expressly endorse someone, because I’m just one person, basing my opinion on how platforms, policies, and ideas impact me.

Back when I was at The Gazette, we would endorse candidates for the students’ council elections. It was always up for debate whether or not we should, but we felt that as an editorial board that covered the elections, we could share our thoughts and recommendations with the students’ — as a bloc — best interest at heart.

But personally? How can I? I can share my thoughts based on my perspective and lifestyle. Politically, I’ve voted all over the centre to left of the spectrum (Liberal, NDP, Green… Sorry, just can’t vote Conservative/Reform). I’m socially small-l liberal, but also believe that we need to be fiscally responsible. Heck, I even considered voting PQ once (if it wasn’t for that pesky separating of Canada party foundation).

Locally, I’ve helped out my Ward councillor at a few community events because I like supporting my ward. But she’ll be the first to tell you that I’ve also questioned her on certain actions and stances. There are other people running that I like personally and have had positive experiences with — but that doesn’t mean I’ve chosen for whom I’m voting.

The day’s still a long way away.

I’m just one man, sharing my perspective and experiences. I believe in doing it up front and honestly. I consider myself critical of the process and aware of the issues. But I also know there are a lot of people out there searching for information in a vacuum devoid of context.

If I had a horse in the race, I’d admit it. Because not doing so is misleading, dangerous, and counter to developing a political environment based on transparency.

Many months ago, I put out an open statement suggesting that groups, citizen journalists, and others who were sharing political information come out and divulge their affiliations, planned or existing. Nothing came out of it. And that’s telling.

That’s the politicking of information.

As voters, we need to be aware of it, be critical of the information we receive, and work to frame it in the right perspective. From media to advocacy groups to our neighbours — we need to remember that all opinion comes with context. That way we can best interpret what it means to us and cast an informed ballot.

Talk to the source. Go to your candidates and ask questions. Research the issues that matter and balance those promises with their potential for success. Search out opinions from all sides of the political spectrum and ensure your opinions stand up to criticism.

It’s more work. It’s puts the onus of interpretation unfairly on the recipient of the information, rather than the provider or curator. But it’s the only way to make sure your vote has value to the only person that matters.

You.

October’s fast approaching. You have the time to be critical and get involved. Gold or filthy lucre — only you can determine that information’s value. Because when it comes to expecting honesty, I’m afraid, like John said, “the dream is over.”

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