I was struck today by the report by Unicef which revealed that half a million children in the UK have missed out on vaccinations. Then there are the climate change deniers, the flat earthers and those who believe that chemtrails are plots by governments to control the weather.
What all of these have in common is that they are all conspiracy theories which have exploded (1) as a result of social media and (2) because less and less people are now reading newspapers or accessing bona fide news outlets.
In one of my most recent articles, I spoke about how the different generations communicate (click here). Simply put, the world divides into traditional communicators (those born before 1980) and those who are digital natives (born after 1980).
The first group still seek out traditional outlets like newspapers, the BBC, ITN and trade journals to get their information. They have decades of history accessing the news which has been put together by professionals who have a duty to report accurately wherever possible – even though this may be skewed by the views of the proprietor.
However the second group, who have no allegiance to traditional news, will find out what’s going on from a wide variety of sources – Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp groups, YouTube, gaming sites like Twitch and other messaging sites. None of this is regulated, none of this has a press ombudsman and much of this is a mixture of conjecture, product placement, influencer activity and personal views. It’s much like the Wild West in terms of how it’s controlled.
Which leaves us with a world where somehow truth can be labelled as ‘fake news’ and completely made up rubbish can be peddled as the truth. Furthermore, a younger generation may know intimate details about their favourite vlogger/Instagrammer but will have little understanding of what is happening in the Brexit debate or the war currently waged in Yemen.
In many ways, we are returning to where we were before newspapers appeared some 300 years ago. The general populace would be guided by rumour and superstitions, have a huge amount of knowledge about the lives of those in their own communities but little understanding of the wider world beyond.
And it’s not just the younger generations. Older people who should really know better now accept what they read online without questioning its validity. Why? It’s a combination of easy access to information on mobile devices, a lack of time and laziness.
So where does this leave businesses who are keen to get their (hopefully truthful) messages out to their various stakeholder groups? The answer is creating engaging content, backed up by fact, which will interest and provoke your audiences into accessing this information. It doesn't matter whether this information is on your blog, social media accounts or even in the presentations you give – it still needs to engage an audience with an increasingly short attention span.