In the Land of the Blind the One-eyed Man is King

This morning I watched a Youtube Video (hey, aren’t I down with the kids  ), about a researcher advocating the view that communications about the Covid-19 pandemic are being manipulated to force people into taking patented vaccinations, when they eventually come on stream. It was a 30 minute piece, and presented what appeared to be a rational argument. Of course, whilst it purported to challenge the prevailing narrative it did not present any challenge to its own message. Ergo, it was presented in a style to be seen in many conspiracy theory social media messages.

Putting aside the content of the Youtube video and focusing on the format; how am I, as a viewer, supposed to be able to discriminate truth from fiction? By viewing a range of material presenting a variety of perspectives and arguments? Where are the boundaries on this? How do I know when I have seen enough to draw a rational conclusion?

Therein lies the rub of social media. In an age where someone’s position as an ‘influencer’ is dictated by the number of followers they have, I find myself wondering what is the position of fact and reality? How does fame gained through advocating given brands of make-up or DIY tools qualify someone to be a thought leader on national or world affairs? Of course, the more we are educated and the more we learn, the clearer it becomes to us how nebulous concepts such as fact and reality actually are.

In my day-to-day work I see an increasing emphasis placed on the value of social media. People with much experience in their field appear to be blinded by the social media hype. They are aware of the power of advocacy, and delivering the best message through the most accessible media. Lacking confidence in their own capacity to utilise this media they turn to people with social media expertise for guidance. Leads to the question, what is social media expertise?

Does social media serve as a conduit of the message or does it give a lot of power to the message and those who put themselves in the position of being experts in social media? I find it sad to see venerable experts, in a professional context, subjugate themselves to the ‘expertise’ of social media aficionados. On a personal note, I often think the former has probably forgotten more than the latter will ever know. Yet, due to the understandable human insecurities of the former the latter is given the power to mediate communications which may influence the information that many people receive.

The result? Nature abhors a vacuum. The knowledge gaps will be filled with what is communicated. If what is communicated is best available knowledge, or a contribution to a debate then that is great. If what is communicated is what makes a good soundbite or looks good in 140 characters, then I for one do not think that is so good. When we receive a message via media, whether that media be social or otherwise, it is important that the message is presented as objectively as possible. If the objective is to get as many hits or likes as possible then objectivity is subjugated right from the outset. If the communicator, and the media they use, does not take on responsibility for the objectivity of the message and the quality of the sources used then that responsibility is left with the message recipient.

Unfortunately, as with the video I viewed this morning, communications without objectivity put a weight on the recipient that most will probably overlook and simply accept the message, as delivered. Hence , what many people believe will not then be the views of best knowledge sources but what ill-equipped social media ‘experts’ and ‘influencers’ want them to believe.

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Martin Coffey

About Martin Coffey

Postgraduate Career Development Adviser, Doctoral College Team.

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