This generation of politicians and policymakers has quite the task at hand. How do you lead people so confused by misinformation and fake news spread via social media?
The problem is significant. More and more people are “informed” by what is sent to them on their smartphones. Unsourced material is uncritically absorbed as news and fact. People think incidents happened that didn’t, be it a kidnapping, killings, government policy change, or the like.
After the fake news is spread, people comment on it, form opinions, get upset and mobilize to action. Thousands could be concerned, afraid or angered by something that never was. And this happens frequently.
Fake news is not new, of course. It has been around from Homo sapiens could communicate. What is new in the digital age is everyone has a smartphone and information flows at unprecedented speeds and frequencies directly between people across a global network.
This technological change is challenging the old media centers. Whereas people looked to the newspaper of record or the nightly broadcast news to be informed in a previous era – where information was distilled by editors – the trend now is to read what a friend forwarded and to believe it to be true.
This bombardment of bad information is dangerous, especially in our context.
We are an uneducated people. The national D average – in an easy exam – is only pulled up to that by the performance of the private schools. Our public education system, where the majority are “educated”, is a mess where failure, illiteracy and innumeracy are the norm.
In the digital era, we consequently have an already uneducated people “informed” by fake news and nonsense circulated on social media.
Leading is difficult in such an environment. What are the agreed upon facts? What is truth? Who can you believe and rely upon? Are the people even capable of understanding the most basic of policy matters?
There are no easy answers to these problems in free societies where information flows are not centrally regulated.
What our leaders must realize is if they want to reach the people they have to find ways to communicate effectively in the social media realm. Those who don’t will lose debates and support to those who do. And those opinion leaders could be idiots who attract large audiences and influence the people to ruinous views.
This is a most confused generation. Leading it is difficult. Reality is in question. Facts are in question. Where information comes from is in question.
No leader should underestimate the power of social media. It is a world in which many live undisturbed by the complexities of reality.