From 1994 until 2013 I worked in public relations roles – both as a career and as a volunteer. I loved working with brand development and crisis management. I have learned that it is much easier to advise on someone else’s crisis than manage your own!
The term “public relations” had a drastically different meaning during my days in PR compared to “public relations” in 2020. Public relations still exists and it is still critically important for companies and institutions to get their message out, but now everyone has instant access to social media AND they are going to use it! Maxim Behar is the CEO of M3, which is one of the largest public relations firms in world, summarized the plight of public relations’ professionals this way, “(t)hose 3 billion people who are now social media users are dealing with ‘relations,’ and everything has become ‘public!’”
In my current role of mayor of Oxford, social media has allowed for a level of transparency and accessibility that didn’t exist before Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Over the past few months dealing with Covid-19, being able to communicate immediately via Facebook videos with the Oxford community has been invaluable, and I believe the citizens of our community appreciate it. Using social media has allowed important information to be distributed and questions to be answered in a timely manner. While social media has provided comfort during the pandemic and access to information, it has also become increasingly negative, divisive, misleading, and in many cases hateful.
Before social media took over the world, there was no such thing as “fake news.” Who knew social media profiles could be stolen and, when clicked on, fake personalities would pop up? We didn’t know that there would be bots, spam accounts, or burner accounts. Who knew there would be “trolls” who spent hours a day with the goal of carrying out some political or personal agenda to destroy a person or business? Welcome to 2020 – the year of the pandemic and extreme social strife complete with all of the venom of social media!
Sadly, increasingly in America today, we don’t simply disagree, and move on. We dislike, distrust and even despise those who see the world differently, and many people choose social media because you really do not have to confront anyone, or face any challenge to your opinion or the use of your own “facts”. One can simply sit in the comfort of their own home, and say the meanest thing they can think of without regard for how it may affect others. With more free time than usual and more anxiety produced by the side effects of the pandemic, social media platforms have allowed the worst in people to be seen by the public. Relationships are being destroyed and tolerance seems to be at an all-time low.
The rise in hate is hard to ignore. It’s all too easy to equate the hate with politics, but the unavoidable fact is, where we sit on the partisan spectrum is increasingly determining our worldviews and even our relationships with other people. We can blame political parties, political leaders, or the media but we are all, in some way, small or large, responsible for perpetuating a growing culture of hate. It’s much harder to look at ourselves objectively than it is to blame our political enemies for all our ills. But until we do, the hate will continue to eat us – and our country – alive.
We can throw our hands up, or we can determine to be the change. We can invest in conversations that move ‘us vs. them’ toward ‘me and you’ to turn the tide of this deepening division. We can listen ... really listen to people who do not think just like we do. We can listen to understand instead of listening to develop a quick response. We can try to see others as people not issues. All of this is much easier said than done, but we have to start somewhere! Remember, just because you can say it, certainly doesn’t mean you should.
“There is too much negativity in the world. Do your best to make sure you aren’t contributing to it.” - Germany Kent