Archive for the ‘Media Literacy’ Category

Pundits are offering differing perspectives about the outcomes of the Mueller report… so much so that people will be able to hear and believe whatever they want.

Some are claiming the president has been cleared of collusion and obstruction, and that’s all that matters. Others believe he’s probably guilty, and it is being hidden by the White House. And others are pointing out that guilty or not, close campaign associates are already going to jail for their criminal conduct, and communication between many of the candidate’s associates and the Russians during the campaign has been clearly documented.

So whether or not crimes have been committed, this much is clear: Simply from a digital media and communication dynamics perspective, the damage to our democracy by the Russians (and possibly other foreign governments) has been serious, and the 2016 presidential election was clearly compromised. And what’s more, the 2020 election probably will be too.

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We simply cannot ignore what words can do. When divisive words become the norm, they inevitably incite anger… and eventually produce violence. The fact is… Social media are creating an international vocabulary of copycat words, with the power to unite extremists and incite violence.

“Immigrant invasion” emergencies. When any emergency is explained as an “invasion of immigrants,” it must be recognized that this is a code phrase being used by white supremacists who have already staged killings in New Zealand, Charleston, Pittsburg, Charlottesville, and many other places around the world.  Today, social media has become its own ecosystem with an incredible international bonding power for lost and angry souls.

Contempt for adversaries. When constructive conversations in search of imaginative solutions degenerate into widespread contempt and hatred for adversaries, violence is close at hand.

Populism, nationalism, and autocracy.  When populism and nationalism force citizens to take sides, an autocracy is in the making. Fueled by social media, and encouraged by autocrats, dangerous divisions have already appeared in Russia, China, Philippines, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and a number of countries in eastern and central Europe.

The dividing power of wealth. History teaches that widening class divisions can eventually destroy entire civilizations. In the U.S., huge tax cuts mostly benefiting the rich, unfair job advantages, easy elite college access, plus arrogance… and more, might be early indications of a possible middle class and poor people’s rebellion.

The seriousness of climate change. Willingness to ignore modern science by too many of those invested in polluting industries, is inspiring a growing and dangerous youth rebellion. Such generational divisions have a history of turning into worldwide, peace-threatening, demonstrations.

Code words and phrases. Fear mongering on social media every day exacerbates, unites, and incites. And when leaders suggest that their followers might get out of control on their own, a kind of permission for violence is felt by those who only need a little encouragement.

Autocracies can actually become attractive. In countries threatened by division, a gradual belief can emerge that the control promised by an autocrat is necessary to bring about stability. Inevitably, however, autocracies backfire into cruel dictatorships.

“With me, or against me” are words that produce dangerous divisions, no matter the political ideology. Ironically, they are both the dividing and uniting words of terrorists, autocrats, and dictators all over the world.

Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, has a new Book: Love Your Enemies. It is an alarming warning of how violence results when constructive debating grows into contempt and hatred for your adversaries.

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Finally feeling in political control, party enthusiasm might very quickly lead Democrats to a an unanticipated costly overreach. And it’s important to understand that there are unavoidable communication dynamics at work in political moments like this.

You announce a Congressional investigation. You release ambitious plans to move quickly ahead. You immediately make requests for documents from your recently defeated adversaries. And then, you ask many of them to testify at a hearing. But, just as quickly those adversaries begin complaining about harassment, and very soon begin to use doublespeak to state doubts about your legitimacy. In time, this constant noise-making opens a few cracks and weaknesses in your arguments, threatening the future of your investigation.

In the case of current hearings underway in the House of Representatives, one committee’s immediate request for over 80 documents, combined with extremely liberal ideas becoming vocal at the same time, will likely expose unanticipated vulnerabilities. All lawyers know that in situations like this embarrassment is lurking somewhere. Thus, political parties in the minority will always complain about hypocrisy, and in this case will brand leftist liberal ideas as Communist-inspired socialism.

And all this is going on when polls are showing that the majority of Americans are somewhere in the political middle. So when Republicans brand Democrats as extreme socialists, and also produce a pragmatic sounding counter-plan, they will very likely find a large and receptive “silent-majority” audience. Hence, aggressive overreach is dangerous… especially now for the Democrats.

It’s also important to understand that the danger of overreach is a natural part of communication dynamics, and has little to do with political ideology. 

So avoiding the bad consequences of overreach requires strategic communication savvy more than political argument. Don’t make huge requests for documents from adversaries up front. Consider inviting them to meet with your committee first. Carefully plan penetrating, but fair, questions. Then, follow-up with requests for only essential documents. Don’t be in a big hurry. Only then, threaten to subpoena the important hold-outs. And all this while stating and restating your ultimate pragmatic game-plan… preferably one that meets the needs of the already known “silent” majority.

In today’s overwhelming media ecosystem, the irony is that what seems to be a political breakthrough one day, might end up only adding more clutter and confusion to an already vast universe of good ideas. Or worse, overreaching can also lead to political defeat.

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Since the president began calling the news media “the enemy of the people” I have been asking colleagues how they think reporters are doing with finding and reporting truth.

One colleague recently told me that he thinks many journalists are doing their best in a very difficult climate. But he does not understand why so many television anchors still put opposing experts on camera to shout at each other, and why some journalists still report wild assertions as if they are reasonable. And also, why do rallies based on personal attacks and double-speak still get so much coverage?

His remarks reminded me that traditional journalism education has always taught reporters to give equal opportunity to all sides of controversies. This obviously makes sense. But in an all new era of nonstop lies, gross exaggerations, and personal attacks, should this practice be revisited?

In other words, in today’s confusing media ecosystem, should the national news media focus more specifically on fact-checking and reporting the results in real-time, no matter the source?

The president’s two-hour double-speak at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will connect with different people in different ways. For some, it simply will be remembered as harmless entertainment. For others, it will be remembered as the sad cries of a person losing his mind. And for others, it will only have been more of the same from the person they chose to support during the campaign.

But is there an overall truth that should be unpacked and reported as the main story from this perplexing CPAC extravaganza? I think so… see Lesson 477, “Word Salad” leadership.

That said, we must also remember that even nonprofit news often operates as a business. All news organizations are influenced by TV ratings, newspaper readership, celebrity power, and advertising/subscriber/fund-raising revenue. Could it be that in the final analysis the president’s daily antics are the best “profit” producers the news media ever had? Sadly, this too often complicates reporting only truth.

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When television overtook print as the dominant medium many of us studying the media assumed that we now had the technology in place to bring about a happy global village. It seemed obvious that people would easily come together, understand and appreciate each other’s cultures, and world peace would finally be within our reach. The cold war between superpowers was coming to an end, but instead of creating this imagined happy village, television would magnify a wide range of already simmering smaller conflicts. Instead of a better world, television would help create a more dangerous one.

Later, when the digital revolution gave us social media, we once again assumed that media platforms like Google and Facebook would become positive forces. Certainly, Facebook would bring people all over the world together as happy “Facebook friends.” That did happen for a while. “Friending” people became the thing to do, and collecting thousands of them was a source of pride. But eventually angry people would begin using the technology for angry things, and very serious social disruption issues would appear.

Gradually many teenagers are finding that the Internet is robbing them of important face-to-face interaction skills. Their interests are narrowing instead of broadening. Their ability to process complex information is actually fading. Many gradually become lonely, interacting mostly from their bedrooms and texting all day long.

To make matters worse, some of these teens fall under the spell of bullies and sexual predators. As a consequence, a growing number battle depression. Some even consider ending their lives, while others have done so.

Even the social media platforms that provide the rest of us happy and useful family, personal, and professional interactions, are proving they can be time wasters, and even dangerous weapons in the hands of foreign and local adversaries. Suddenly we are all scrambling to learn how to spot the “fake news” that is viciously intended to create social division and discord.

While the benefits of social media platforms are clear, many of those same platforms have damaged their own original benefits by selling access and advertising to the wrong people. Facebook is struggling right now to balance the idea of access based on “freedom of speech” with access based on “fair use policies.” But it may be too late. Populist and terror groups disguised as legitimate organizations have already become experts at using this technology to mobilize their followers.

With an autocrat-determined president who uses Twitter every day to create division, chaos, and fear, it is now virtually impossible to separate truth from lies, and to stop fringe groups from using these tweets to empower themselves to act out their often racist anger. And today’s populists are not just right wingers. They are any extremist group, left or right, that decides to get mad and incite sympathizers to make trouble, and even violence.

Yes, social media really does have a dangerous dark side. And an in-depth civics and media literacy program in every school, college, and community action group, seems to be the most practicable way forward.


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I write about media and communication, and the political consequences of media revolutions. Politically I am independent. But I have become disappointed in the legislative paralysis caused by extreme partisanship… and that lies, exaggerations, personal attacks, and double-speak have become an accepted reality in political discourse.

From a pure communication and media perspective, today’s rose garden performance was a disaster. It was factually incoherent, rambled for 50 minutes around unrelated issues, and was even contradictory about whether the need for more wall is a real national emergency. At one point, he actually admitted that he did not have to declare this emergency now… adding that he is already building the wall.

It was 50 minutes of pure “word salad.” I wrote about this brand of double-speak in Lesson 477. Google the phrase and you find three related health conditions. The third condition is “narcissistic personality disorder,” described as a person with an inflated sense of self-importance, disregard for others, and excessive need for admiration.

All Americans should suffer through all 50 minutes of this Rose Garden disaster. However you feel about the need for a border wall, after analyzing this performance you simply must be concerned about what is actually going on in this administration. You will likely conclude that we really do have a national security emergency, and it is living in the White House.

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As the democratic candidates for president get in line, it is refreshing to see diversity in race, gender, and religion. It is also refreshing to see intelligent young people getting interested in politics. They really do seem to represent the diversity of America.

Most have done their homework, have impressive backgrounds, are good speakers, and have a lot of stored up enthusiasm and energy to display in the many months ahead. And if you listen to their words, and are moved by their upbeat tone, you will likely conclude that any one of them will make a great leader of something.

But recent television and social media revolutions, combined with hard lessons from the 2016 election, have already changed the requirements for winning in 2020. Looking strong on television, in social media, and in person is now basic. And simply being photogenic does not help. In fact, “too pretty” today can actually be counterproductive. What works best in a “hard-hitter” world are leaders who can look both really strong and sincerely empathetic at the same time.

Here is what all this will mean in 2020:

(1)  A physical presence and “look” of strength will be necessary to match Mr. Trump’s towering, loud-mouth, arrogance. This strength need not come from height, weight, or gender. Rather it can come from posture, facial expression, attitude, tone, rock solid self-confidence, and overall body language.

(2)  An unwavering strength of character must also be obvious from past and current behaviors in order to counter Trump’s lies, exaggerations, cruelty, bully tactics, lack of ethics, autocratic behaviors, and name calling.

Therefore, a picture image of both personal strength and empathy is the bottom-line prerequisite for winning in 2020. This will matter more than gender, age, race, or even rally generated excitement. And a deep understanding of issues, a clear vision for the future, and fully explained commitments, must underlie everything.

Before you support any candidate you should ask these questions: Overall, is this person strong enough to win? Can he or she handle any crisis, in any place, at any time, with clear strategic thinking? And when in the oval office, will I once again be very proud of my United States of America?

Make no mistake, it will take a rare blend of unflappable personal strength and second-nature empathy to pull all this off. And just liking a candidate will not be enough. If this current crop of candidates remains an indicator, by 2020 you will probably still like most of them.

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