“All of us who professionally use the mass media are shapers of society. We can vulgarise that society. We can brutalise it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”
– William Bernbach
While Bernbach was referring at the time to those working in the media (the journalists, editors, TV producers, broadcasters and creatives), it hit me that his quote has probably never been as pertinent as it is today.
The rise of social media means we’ve all, in a bit-part way, turned into editors. We’re all responsible for shaping the media landscape and each and every one of us is responsible for shaping society through the content we share.
We all have platforms and we are all responsible for the content we broadcast, especially those of us in PR who work with people with platforms able to really shape public opinion and drive conversation.
This means it’s no longer just the editors, journalists and creatives working in publishing that are responsible for shaping society. We all are.
We can all vulgarise it. We can all brutalise it. And we can all help lift it onto a higher level.
When I first read Bernbach’s quote, it was in the midst of a global pandemic (Covid-19, for anyone who may be for some reason reading this years down the line) and misinformation around lifesaving vaccines was leaving millions of people across the globe wondering what – and who – to believe. Some of my closest friends and family included.
That was 18 months ago and at the time of writing, we’re currently witnessing the first major war which has brought information warfare to the fore (Russia’s tragic invasion of Ukraine in 2022).
During the conflict, brilliant acts of investigative journalism by people such as Elliot Higgins of Bellingcat and Cliff Levy of the New York Times have helped expose thousands of videos that have been faked using artificial intelligence to mislead people the world-over and have helped unveil systematic ‘troll farms’ set up to spread hate and propaganda across the web.
However, for every excellent expose by a Higgins or Levy, there are a million posts published each and every day, without the oversight of an editor, that contain no accuracy and balance and are giving a platform to trolls and aiding the spread of misinformation.
Churnalism and a lack of regulation on social media has resulted in millions of fake news articles each and every day being published and spread across social media and the wider web. Be it the fake videos of war crimes or misleading stories around Covid vaccines, there is so much noise on social media that for every heart-warming story or crucial breaking news announcement, there are a million pieces of disinformation drowning them out.
Misinformation is an endemic in today’s society and only by channelling our inner editors can we help lift society onto a higher level.
We must all consider the content we – and our clients – share. We must ensure it’s fair, balanced, and reflective of the society we would like to live in and raise our families in.
We all have platforms, and we must use those platforms to stimulate the discussions that editors would deem worthy of making the cut. Stories that help expose injustice, stories that help shine a light on the true heroes of society and stories that help shape the society we want to live in.
So, next time you advise clients on what to post, or take a second to consider what you are posting through your platforms, ask yourself “how could this impact on society? Will it vulgarise it, brutalise it or lift it?”
Every bit of content we create helps shape society, just like the articles our editors approve and turn away, each and every day for being unbalanced or unfair.
Every platform has a voice and it’s time we all amplified the voices we want – and need – to hear.
Together, we can shift away from a society worried about misinformation and shape a world that is more enjoyable to live in. A world which celebrates the success of those fighting injustice, those going above and beyond to make society a better place, and those genuinely spreading joy in times of despair.
In a world of trolls and churnalists, be an editor.