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Comment: Lots of views, not so much news

Comment: Lots of views, not so much news

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Comment: Lots of views, not so much news

In a world of social media, is it really a good idea to clam up to criticism and refuse to face inaccurate information head on? According to one marketing speak-savvy columnist, the answer is 'no'.

Katherine Penhaligon - who each month picks the best business buzzword examples to try and reveal what lies beneath for Connect magazine - reflects on how it's "getting harder and harder to get a straight answer, to a straight question"...

"We’re all to blame at some level.

Corporations and businesses of all sizes have agendas for why they do, or do not, want information to be disclosed – sometimes for good reasons. Of course, all of us also differ on what a good reason might be; especially when it can be traced fairly quickly to a balance sheet.

So, conspiracy theory and rumour grows, and some organisations clam up in the face of criticism, or refuse to go head-to-head with inaccurate reporting of information to starve it of credence.


Pictured: Clamming up in the face of criticism does not work in the face of the information overload that is social media.

Unfortunately, this reaction fails to work in the face of the information overload that is social media, and is now coupled with a general distrust, and a bewildered casting about for something that looks factual enough to hang on to.

It is not exactly revelatory that what we increasingly think of as ‘traditional’ media outlets put an angle on information to make you read it. The facts come out in the most attention-grabbing order, rather than the order of importance because, as consumers, we have a really poor attention span.

It’s not new but the competition posed by social media has given news outlets fierce competition in terms of immediacy, and the sheer volume of unchecked information. Everyone, and their dogs, now exercises their right to express as fact an opinion, no matter how vapid or morally repugnant. 

Some media have decided that the best course of action is to up the sensationalism and shouty ‘exclusives’ in an attempt to play social media ‘ranters’ at their own game. The trouble is that this just means that it diminishes what remains of the trust which was already delivered a serious body-blow with the phone-hacking scandal, and the partisan political allegiances which can be so blatantly obvious in the British national media.


 Pictured: "Some media have decided that the best course of action is to up the sensationalism and shouty ‘exclusives’ in an attempt to play social media ‘ranters’ at their own game."

It’s happening globally and the more polarised our views become, the more obvious it seems that we are reinforcing our own views, no matter where we look for information.

There might be a lot more of it out there, but in our efforts to sift that information and make sense of it, we often end up simply cutting out the opinion we don’t like, and turning up the volume on the kind of stuff that makes us nod. It doesn’t make for good well-informed debate. 

It also happens on our own small stage here, on both international and parochial matters. 5G is one which springs to mind. There is so much false information, and so many people willing to believe theories which fit with their outlook that, whether your concern is data security or public health, you are often sharing information which looks and sounds real, but could have been made up by the bloke next door.

5G – like MMR and the hugely damaging anti-vax lobby before it – has gathered a head of social media steam that means that it is virtually impossible to verify the source of information. 


Pictured: There is so much false information about 5G out there.

Yes, our (global) governments need to ensure that they put public health ahead of profit – whether that is here, London or Huawei headquarters in Shenzen – but we also need to make sure that we don’t sit on innovation and advances on the basis of unproven claims or maliciously inaccurate information.

And, we especially don’t want Jersey’s burgeoning reputation for digital capability stifled because of a Youtube clip of a US news station interviewing someone who is simply repeating misinformation they have heard somewhere else, as if it was fact.

It is probably fair to say that the view that 5G roll-out should be delayed is not one that has much sway in the business community, especially when the EU has repeatedly said there is no proof of health impacts for humans. This does not mean, however, that it is a view that should not be addressed. Sneering at its proponents only intensifies dis-satisfaction and suspicion. 

The one thing that the digital industry and the 5G-naysayers do have firmly in common is that neither of them wants the industry set to make money out of 5G answering questions about regulation and standards.


Pictured: "The one thing that the digital industry and the 5G-naysayers do have firmly in common is that neither of them wants the industry set to make money out of 5G answering questions about regulation and standards."

Even if they have the right information, those wanting a clear and independent view on it are not going to accept its validity if there is a profit margin to worry about.

Unfortunately, in the absence of any authority providing sensible answers and spelling out clearly what action has already been taken, and what reliable studies have been done by actual experts, the pseudo-scientists will continue to have the loudest voice. 

There does come a point when everyone has to look in the direction of the regulator and government and ask them to provide the clarity that everybody needs to be sure of their ground, and to stand by the regulations and standards they will be setting."

This column first appeared in Connect Magazine, which you can read in full by clicking here.

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