Too Much Information or How the Truth Gets Lost

In 7 years of talking about social media, I have never thought that I would be the one to say, “There is too much information.”

In the early days of social media, there were huge debates about the value of user-generated content vs the media (old media vs new media). Although I rarely participated in these debates I usually found myself on the side of new media. Even some of my early presentations illustrated how new media was just as valuable and trustworthy as old media, and maybe even more so because of the power of the network to call out anything false and for ongoing dialog that will expose the truth.

This was before Marketing and PR hijacked social media.

In 2006 and 2007 I gave a lot of presentations to Marketing and PR professionals. The question that I was asked at every presentation was “how do we control the message?” My answer was that you can’t. I was wrong.

I have watched as lots of money has been poured into social media campaigns to get people excited or inspired to spread the message to their friends thus using the power of the network to imply that the message was true. We can see this in political smear campaigns and branded marketing campaigns, which is to be expected. But the recent Kony2012 campaign is what recently got my attention and has made me quite concerned.

My first exposure to the Kony2012 campaign was when I read a headline in my Google Alerts that basically said a new social media campaign was about to be launched and I should not believe it. I did not read any further. Then my friends on Facebook started posting the video and expressing their heartfelt support for the campaign. I even learned that one of my connections was actually from Uganda and had first-hand experiences with warlords. I thought back to the initial report that warned me to ignore this campaign and made a mental note to do more research. Then my teenage son came home and told me about the campaign. As we talked about it I mentioned the headline I read that said to ignore the campaign. He explained to me that everything, even a good campaign such as this, will have haters. Haters are gonna hate. The hater’s side of the story is there is nothing we can do, or it is not our problem and so forth. Typical apathy. I made another mental note to look into the campaign.

This morning my 11-year-old son was on my laptop. When I was finally able to win the custody battle for my Mac I noticed that my son had not logged off the chat he was having with another 5th grader about the Kony video. At this point, I knew I had to look into this.

But before I began my Kony research I decided to go through my Daily Google Alerts. My alerts were full of articles about the Kony2012 campaign. Most about how well the campaign has been executed. Social Media Today had a great post titled Ripoff or Revolution? which pointed out Grant Oyston’s Tumblr account  which was asking good questions about the Kony2012 campaign.

Then I came across the post How Kony2012 gets it wrong. There are a lot of good questions being asked about motives, message, and facts.

When it comes to wanting to do something good for mankind or to stop horrific evil, we can do little things every day. Those little things add up. But when those little things are part of a misdirected larger effort, then ultimately more harm is done.

Perhaps I was right many years ago in believing that social media brings out the truth because of the ability for others to respond. But what I have learned is that there is so much noise on the web that many people miss the responses. It takes time to research the validity of a story, which is why so much misinformation gets passed around. And unless a response to such a story is positioned in a way that it makes a person look good or feel good to share the other side of the story, the response will never gain the power from a strong network.  How can one feel good about telling their friends that they have been duped, that their good deed for the day may have caused more harm than good? More importantly, how do we keep from getting cynical and apathetic?

More than ever, we all have a responsibility to do a little more than sign our name to a list or share a story with our friends. If we truly want to make a difference in our world, we need to get involved with the world even if it means taking a little time to learn more than one side of the story. There is a lot of information on the web that if we take the time to read more details and ask more questions, the truth should never get lost.

Related Posts:

KONY, Networked Nonprofits, and Transparency