It’s easy to pass on information very quickly. With the stroke of a few keys, the entire world can be engulfed with news about hurricanes, political downfalls, poverty, and war. This is the new world in which we live, and no matter where we fall in the online community, we are all party to how we communicate one with another.
There was a beautiful blog post written once about mothering and self-worth. The blog writer posted it and I was one of the first people to read it. She was, after all, in my reader. Within seconds of her pressing “publish,” I had read her post, and I shared it on my Facebook status. So did a few other of her readers. Some of my readers read it because I had linked to it, and then they shared it. By that afternoon, she had thousands of views, and by the end of the week, it was in the hundred thousands. It had gone, as we say, “viral.”
I see viral media stemming from a few basic rules: it has to be sensational, it has to be validating, and it has to be universal enough to apply to the masses.
In this instance, my friend’s blog post was sensational because it was good writing and it was an idea that was easily adopted into an average woman’s life — although not necessarily one the average person would have come up with on his or her own. It was validating because she understood the struggles of motherhood. And it was universal because even those who aren’t mothering could apply what she was saying to their own struggles.
This was a good example of viral media. What she said was uplifting. Accurate. From the source.
But this is not as common as one would think it is. Truly, viral media is a minefield where we need to step carefully in order to avoid disastrous results. I have seen how false viral media can destroy lives, not to mention testimonies of the Gospel.
How do we navigate this minefield?
First, I think it’s imperative to always consider the source of the information. Is this coming from someone known to you personally? Are there credible sources backing this information? Where did it come from? It’s easy to claim credibility, but if it’s simply from anonymous or a friend’s cousin’s mother-in-law’s sister’s cousin, it might be a tad fishy.
Next, there needs to be consideration for all sides of the story. Just as a jury is provided all the facts before the judgement, there needs to be some room for allowing the sensationalized information to be seen from multiple perspectives. Is this a one-sided story? Are they hiding information? What about the accused?
Lastly, I think we mostly need to follow the guidance of the Spirit when we see sensational viral media. Some would call it, “going with our gut,” but that, to me, is simply seeking the Holy Ghost and our conscious. Will this media harm somebody? Will this media uplift, create good changes, or help someone in need? Will this media lead to misunderstanding, inflammation, pain, or unnecessary controversy? These are the questions professional journalists should ask, and are required by the honor of the trade to consider.
Recently there was a viral protest, backed by sensational and mouth-dropping accusations. The victim was anonymous — nobody but the author of the post asking for protest knew the hurt party. Those behind the viral protest (the victim’s new-found supporters) called for immediate judgement against the victim’s accused, without additional information about the larger story. If the story was true, as claimed, it would mean the accused was acting reprehensibly, therefore the victim — and others like her — could only receive justice through a collective massive protest. However, if the accused was actually innocent, it would be blatant false witness.
My gut told me something wasn’t right, even though my own personal views would have sided with the victim. A few others agreed.
When I became privy to some of the truth of the matter, it confirmed my gut feeling. The sensational story calling for viral protest was neither completely true, nor completely false. The victim had specifically asked for her story to be kept private and the situation was greatly exaggerated for more support, including one falsehood — the victim was not released from her calling because of her actions, in fact, the victim asked to be released. But because of immediate viral media, other innocent parties (both the victim and the accused) have been hurt by it, even if only because of false information circulating the internet. And why? Simply because the sensational, validating, and universal appeal was used, not to promote something good or uplifting, but to further a specific agenda.
Just as there are rules (and the commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness) in how we treat each other in real life, we should be wary and anxious to treat others with the same respect online, especially when, with the stroke of a key, millions of people can rally to a cause, or at the very least, spread unintentional falsehoods.
Read the next essay: Divine Motherhood, Earthly Realities
Image credits: new viral media web development, thepoliticalcarnival.net
About CherylCheryl has been blogging for many years about --but not limited to --her children (there are six), her husband (there is one), her depression (not fun), her travels (very fun!), her religion (loves it), and anything else that strikes her fancy. Right now she's probably reading a book or changing a diaper, maybe at the same time...
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