The Truth Hurts: How PR Professionals Should Handle the Social Media Climate

“Things just don’t be like they used to.” You may have heard that sentence from a grandfather or other senior member of your community. Most of the time, they’re wrong, for the most part. Even Socrates talked about how the younger generation is running amok, disrespecting elders and such. But here we are, hundreds of years later, still functioning just fine. Every generation thinks that the next generation in line is ruining everything, and the end of the world is just around the corner. Fortunately, it probably wasn’t. But lately, these grandpa’s may be less wrong than usual.

The explosion of social media really is changing everything. While the expansion is still occurring, social media has been around long enough that we can, to a degree, reflect on its impact on society. And boy is it changing things.

Before the internet, the bulk of a person’s interactions and knowledge came from what they experienced or from interaction with people who experienced something. In the age of social media, knowledge and experiences can be shared with someone across the globe in seconds. Because of that, anyone can find someone who agrees with them on just about any topic.

However, this means that anyone with a wrong idea can find people who agree with their sentiment, and use that agreement to create a self-perpetuating echo chamber. This leads to less developed conversations overall, and blatant hostility towards those who disagree. People lose their desire, and dare I say ability, to think critically. They get so caught up in groupthink that they lose their sense of balance and reality.

One example is the wage gap myth. People form their own opinions such as “women are at an extreme disadvantage in society.” This statement may in fact be true in a lot of ways. But whether or not it is, the idea will get bolstered by blatantly false information until the cows come home. Women do not earn 77 cents to every dollar a male earns. Many economists agree the gap is closer to 6.6 cents, and probably lower. Even people with the best intentions can still cause harm to an idea or movement. One thing to note, every group, popular opinion, or “side” is affected by the phenomenon.

What does this mean for PR professionals? They must hold themselves accountable to distributing truthful content. A person is smart, but people are dumb. Specifically journalists and trusted organizations, they must be careful what they post. It must be objective and true, and if it contains an opinion, it should be marked as such. PR is in part conveying information to the public. This issue of being objective in touchy topics may not come up every day. But when it does, a PR professional must be able to be objective, and know that whatever they say, it is true and good. For everyone’s good.

References:

For information on the wage gap- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christina-hoff-sommers/wage-gap_b_2073804.html

For information on Socrates sentiment- http://www.bartleby.com/73/195.html

For information on group think- http://www.psysr.org/about/pubs_resources/groupthink%20overview.htm

Photo credit is from this article- http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/12/thousands-protest-media-restrictions-poland-161217033552767.html

Published by

UNT Eagle Strategies

Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism