Social Media: Facts VS Emotion?

It’s been a long time since my last blog post and I’ve now got a new home here on Medium.

When I first started blogging in 2008 it was a significant time of change with the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s. In recent years I remained mostly in the shadows with regards to blogging but I feel it is time return to the light and here’s why…

Photo Credit: Dierk Schaefer — https://www.flickr.com/photos/dierkschaefer/

We now find ourselves in yet another time of uncertainty which we need to make sense of and rationalise. Who would have imagined we would be looking at a British exit from the EU and Donald Trump as the next US President. I, for one, was concerned that we might end up here but didn’t think it was realistically possible.

But how can we make sense of this?

I think a big part of it can be attributed to the shifting media landscape and the continual rise of Social Media. Communicating globally and instantaneously reaching large audiences is now more accessible than ever. Stories, emotions and rumours can literally flare up and become viral in a short space of time. They can leap-frog the actual facts of the situation which may take longer to come to light and be assessed.

With mobile phone adoption the norm in western countries and greater penetration in developing countries, everyone can now have a piece of this conversation like never before. In my previous posts I talked about how this was a good thing and how it would give a voice to the voiceless. However, what it also creates is a greater fog of noise that is difficult to see through.

Photo credit: Hij — https://www.flickr.com/photos/hjl/

In addition there is the effect of the Social Media echo chamber where algorithms continually serve us content that reinforce our believes and perceptions giving us a false impressions on what’s actually happening.

Social Media can be used to whip up emotions on a large scale and facts become secondary when this takes hold. We saw this in both Brexit and the US Election where discontent was stoked around highly-charged themes such as immigration. The Brexiteers did this well in their campaigning on Social Media. Their message was direct, emotive and in some case more visually tangible than the Remain campaign.

The Remainers, on the other hand, relied more on more nefarious arguments such as about economics which were primarily facts rather than emotions. This possibly did not resonate in the same way on Social Media.

It was a similar story with Trump and the US Election. Defying the pollsters he pulled off something that was completely unexpected but an analysis of Social Media before the election showed a great support for Trump. This wasn’t reflected in the mainstream media which seemed to suggest that a Clinton victory was inevitable. In fact in both events Social Media accurately predicted the final outcome.

For politicians and public figures Social Media gives direct access to their audience. It sidesteps the conventional PR, Lobbying and Journalism relationships. Donald Trump understands this well which is why he continues to be active on Twitter we’ll into the early hours of the morning!

However, the cost of this rapidly evolving Social Media environment is reduced accuracy and curation. Less rational emotional storms can easily rise up and obscure the facts. However, such important decisions such as Brexit and the US election need to be based on facts and not just emotions.

Our challenge in the future will be to continually make sense of the facts in a timely fashion through the growing noise. I don’t think this is insurmountable but we must first become aware it is happening.

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