“You are free to choose, but you are not free to alter the consequences of your decisions.”
― Ezra Taft Benson
A recent article about one man’s artful use of the internet, social media, and human psychology to manipulate public opinion left me more concerned than usual about the future of our democracy. The article titled, “EXCLUSIVE: How This Left-Wing Activist Manipulates the Media to Spread His Message” by Ryan Holiday appeared in the New York Observer. Mr. Holiday is an editor-at-large at the New York Observer and author of “Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.” I commend the article to you because I hope it will encourage you to be a careful consumer of information in a world where people try to shape our opinion and view of the world every day.
A country that purports to govern itself democratically cannot succeed unless the people are prepared to make wise choices. By “prepared,” I mean equipped. We can become equipped to make wise choices by experience, education, or a combination of the two. Since it is unlikely the majority of us will personally experience everything necessary to make us wise, education on a broad range of subjects appears to be the next best thing. This is the classic argument for a liberal education where liberal means broad-minded and unprejudiced. Thomas Jefferson said, “The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate.”
On the subject of social media, you may want to follow @GenLeadBlog on Twitter for positive conversation on leadership, character and integrity!
However, we live in the age of the internet and social media. Much of what comes to us over the internet intends to manipulate more than inform. What we read there may not even be true. A basic rule of thumb is that most things are written because somebody wants to tell us something, shape our opinion, and cause us to act in a certain way. Often, authors are not merely passive purveyors of facts. Instead, they have an agenda. The article you are reading now is no different. My purpose in writing is to encourage careful consumption and healthy skepticism about what we read – especially on the internet and in social media.
It wouldn’t hurt to follow the author, @dvanwig, too!
As citizens of a great and free country, we have a responsibility to know the truth about issues, not a version of the truth or a commentary about the truth that tries to tell us what to think. Of course, this takes work on our part, to be prepared to make wise choices. John Adams, one of America’s founding fathers, wrote, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” Every generation needs do all it can to prove John Adams wrong. It will not be easy in the age of the internet, social media, and artful manipulators of public opinion. Be a careful consumer of “information” and be prepared to choose wisely.