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The Weight of Our Word: Truth and Accountability in Communication

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The pen is mightier than the sword. We’ve heard it before. But it’s still so true these days when content of any form or intent is easily spread and accessed. A single post can generate various emotions almost instantaneously, a captivating blog or vlog can propel someone to stardom, curated content can create for someone a totally different persona, a comment can cancel anyone and a tactical communication strategy can get you a seat at the palace. At a time when viral is no longer confined to microbiology or related sciences, the pen (keyboard in most cases) is probably the closest an ordinary person can get to an infinity gauntlet.

Everyone’s in on this secret and that is why the net is inundated will all types and forms of content for all sorts of audiences. They all piggyback on that might connected with the pen. And since almost anyone can upload anything on the web, anyone can wield power.

Perfect case in point: troll farms and other fake news perpetrators. No elaboration needed there.

Individuals pursuing this new type of farming could be doing so out of political beliefs, but many of them could be in it for the financial gains. They are not oblivious to the influence or impact they can create. In fact, they are very much aware of it and take advantage of it, ignoring the ethical boundaries they overstep.

We demand honesty in the content we consume. We should deliver the same in the content we create.

We’ll see more of these farmers and the fake content and ill will they spread in the months ahead with elections coming. How to stop them? We don’t know. Laws do not seem to be enough at this point. Even Facebook is failing miserably to filter out fake and malicious content on its platform regardless of what they are saying about efforts in this area.

But these farmers and trolls may not be the only culprit in this world of inauthentic, untrustworthy communication we’ve built. Isn’t really anyone overlooking the power of the written word and by extension other types of content just as guilty? When we forget the responsibility that comes with the right to freedom of expression, aren’t we as culpable?

Truth, transparency and authenticity in communication are hardest to come by when the platforms for providing content — today mainly the internet in general and social media in particular — are being used precisely for the opposite reasons.

Responsible communication and accountability in content are no longer the sole territory of the media and related fields. We in the communication business must be always on guard as well and protect our audiences against misinformation, disinformation, misrepresentation and other forms of irresponsible messaging.

For that matter, everyone now contributes to what content is available across the different online channels and so everyone is as responsible. When we share what we deem as a witty post without first checking for sensitivity, are we being responsible with our content? When we curate content to project an image different from what is real, are we being authentic in our content? When we pass off someone else’s post, content or work as our own without so much as asking permission or acknowledging the creator, is that honest work on our part? Are we being truthful in what we communicate? Are we being authentic? We demand honesty in the content we consume. We should deliver the same in the content we create.

Truth in communication. Authenticity. Integrity. Accountability. It is so easy to mouth these terms. They roll off so smoothly on many people’s tongues they probably start believing they live these ideals and the fake worlds they have created around themselves are real. It is easy to sound and seem real. But are we?

My content, my rights. Yes, but freedom of expression comes with responsibility. When we share a piece of content, be it a blog, comment, new song or whatever, and people have access to it, it somehow becomes part of them as well, especially among those who strongly relate to the content. In this sense, it’s not just ours anymore.

When we create content for the purpose of sharing or boosting our following, we acknowledge the fact that what we will share could have an impact on whoever will experience it. We devote time and energy coming up with the specific content that will generate the strongest effect possible. A lot of planning is involved. Premeditation if we’re talking about a crime, and so intent can’t be removed from the equation.

For that alone, that very popular line “my page, I can say what I want” is rendered really useless. An empty excuse and an unacceptable act or way of thinking, especially from people with so much influence on others and whose every activity online reaches millions of people, including very impressionable young ones. When they don’t recognize the responsibility they carry and refuse to take that responsibility seriously, do they deserve the trust given them? Mind you and adding salt to injury, they get millions for peddling content we don’t deserve nor need.

We’ll experience a cornucopia of content motivated by different reasons in the months ahead. Social media would be the battleground with physical gatherings likely to be limited because of COVID-19. It might not be a new kind of warfare (much of our current political ecosystem was won out on the social media front, wasn’t it?), but it’s something we need to gear up for anyway. How much fabrication would we have to dissect? How do combat fake content? How do we contribute to bringing honesty and integrity back to the content that we consume?

Anyone can put together a few words on a page and upload them on the web. But not everyone realizes the weight their words carry.

Perhaps because print died and so many started thinking the pen has ceased to be as mighty. But words are words and their sharpness remains no matter the format or delivery medium. With a snap, the infinity gauntlet lets the wearer do anything they want. Words — content — also reshape perspectives, influence behaviors and change the course of history. That’s a lot of power we should take caution in wielding.

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