January 4, 2017

What surprised you about 2016?

What surprised you about 2016?

On page 24 of today’s Guernsey Press, Steve Falla reveals what surprised him most in 2016.

Even though PR has often been described as “the battle for hearts and minds” I contend that the unwelcome concept of “post truth” has no place in the ethical communications practice of today.

The outcomes of the Brexit referendum and the US election were perhaps surprising. The involvement and tacit acceptance of post truth is deeply disappointing.

Yet the adjective has been so over-used in recent months that Oxford Dictionaries selected it as international word of the year – or should that be two words – well, last year’s was an emoji so I should be grateful I suppose?

The dictionary defines post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

This year it’s grandstanded itself in politics but that will likely mean that it will become more widely accepted and come to be used across a broader communications spectrum. Rhetoric has been confusingly presented as fact with Donald Trump taking the crown as master confuser.

The notion is that feelings are somehow more important than facts, emotion more powerful than reason. Does this mean that organisations, including businesses, will no longer be rewarded with trust and understanding for their openness, transparency and fact-based communications?

For years we’ve media trained clients around the fundamental principle that You Never Lie – now blatant lies are routinely told across society. We’ve encouraged our clients to be thought leaders yet we’re told that people have had enough of experts.

Post-truth has somehow crept up on us and caught us unawares.

Now the internet watches what we read and directs more of the same in our direction, comforting us by reinforcing our own view rather than challenging it – with algorithms matching, linking and curating feeds, deciding what is good for us.

We used to be entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts.

A further worrying element is that social media content has become an acceptable source of “news” for lazy journalists; not to mention the speed with which people will share an apparently shocking headline on social media without even reading the full story.

It’s a new world and not all of us feel comfortable in it. Certainly as members of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations we are signed up to a code of conduct that obliges us to check the reliability and accuracy of information before dissemination and to deal honestly and fairly in business.

Fighting post-truth is hard. But organisations must listen to their communications advisers and not give in to the ‘can’t beat them join them’ approach. Engaging in post-truth rhetoric may win you an argument now, but solid, fact-based communication, with real integrity, will always win out in the long run.

Convincing the world that climate change isn’t real might make you a few quid in the short term but it won’t help you when you’re underwater.

Photo credit: Joe Dator

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