Editorial

Social media and the devaluation of public honesty

Sunday, November 24, 2019

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Honesty is the universally accepted principle on which people should voluntarily conduct all their affairs and relations. Without honesty there would be no trust, and relations among people would, in most instances, be ruthless.

Dishonesty is punishable in circumstances under the law, eg perjury, and subject to social sanctions such as expulsions from groups and organisations, divorce, and opprobrium.

But social sanctions are only effective if the dishonest person is capable of feeling shame and embarrassment. This is less and less the situation in modern societies as the acceptance of human foibles, instead of striving for honesty in all things, seems to be growing.

Even as we acknowledge that everyone has told a lie at some time in their life, people generally hold those in public office and positions of authority to a higher standard of honesty in their public statements, even if we ignore flawed conduct in their private lives.

Unfortunately, what the world is now witnessing are new lows in dishonesty and the spread of fake information, especially through the growth and popularity of social media. Indeed, the present conjuncture has been described as “the post-truth era” as there exists among humans a willingness to sacrifice the truth.

In this age of modern communications technology — which is defined by speed, instant gratification, and micro-bits of information — people, especially the young, opt to read several short one-liners instead of a few long, in-depth articles.

The upshot is the provision, on many platforms, of superficial information with a correspondent sacrifice of analytic depth. The consequence of this is that the people who subscribe to those information platforms know of events without knowing much of the underlying ideas and causality.

Having access to more information, therefore, does not necessarily translate into being more informed. That the establishment media of newspapers, television, and radio have been dwarfed by the rapid proliferation of social media is not in doubt.

At last check, were were told that the number of social media users worldwide this year is 3.484 billion, an increase of nine per cent over last year. That is not a number to sneeze at, and anyone who can command the attention of the majority of that market has the ability to shape thoughts and actions.

However, more and more each day, the people who post information on social media are proving that they do not subscribe to the checks and balances that are standard operating practices employed by journalists who work in traditional media.

We are not here saying that people should ignore social media and the information posted on its many platforms. After all, journalists in traditional media monitor social media for leads.

However, what no one can successfully challenge is the fact that when people need to establish the accuracy and credibility of information, they must look to the newspapers, television and radio stations that operate in the traditional media space.


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