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From Soundbites to Discernment

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat—there are a plethora of social media platforms used by stay-at-home moms and celebrities, private citizens and elected officials alike to communicate opinions, beliefs, statements, facts, untruths, popular myths, and more. Then we have regular news sources apart from social media including BBC, CNN, Fox News, CBS, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Blaze—an amalgam of news sources with talking heads and op-ed pieces that launch information, news stories, and soundbites endlessly our way. And it is up to the person receiving and processing that information to then sort through what is and isn’t true. My, does that take work. It’s easier to take the soundbite as the whole story and tweet and retweet it until what is truth and what is hearsay are indistinguishable. 

It’s easier to take the soundbite as the whole story and tweet and retweet it. 

We live in an age and time in which different talking heads will tell us different things for the sake of an agenda, the sake of a partisan viewpoint. And we as receivers of that information aren’t objective either—we have our positions and concerns that drive us to one media outlet and not another. But while we listen to our news sources, we must take care not to discredit others’ views just because they are different from ours; but we must also take care not to accept statements made by proponents of our views just because they agree with us.

I want to suggest that it is our responsibility as citizens, residents, and people living on the soil that we live on, wherever that may be, to hold people in public office—elected officials, and those in public service—news outlets and those with public platforms responsible to telling the truth as it is, to call them out on spin and fearmongering, and falsehoods when that is what they communicate. Just because someone in authority says something is so, unfortunately that does not necessarily mean it is so.

Do not turn off your brain when considering what someone in the public eye says—if it sounds reductionist, simplistic, or skewed, it very well may be. Look it up. Do not turn off your compassion either when uncertainty creeps up in your mind. A simple Google search can corroborate whether a statement made by someone or a news article is accurate, reliable, and truthful. For example, if you google a supposed fact and can only find links from one news source, or the news source is not a journalistic source using first-hand sources, perhaps it’s not true.

Do not turn off your brain when considering what someone in the public eye says.

If something is not true, resist making excuses for the individual or news source, but ask yourself what they may be trying to accomplish by communicating what and as they did—what is the underlying sentiment communicated in this message? Is it fear, anger? Is it divisive? Is it relevant? Is it accurate?

Many of us receive our news not from news sources, but social media outlets—it’s even more important then that we check our information, because our social media platforms are likely filled with people and voices who think and believe as we do. It’s more important in this case to consider how those across the ideological spectrum from us may hear a news item, and to quiet ourselves enough to listen to their voices, hard as that may be.

If you live in the United States or Canada, you have a civic duty and responsibility as a citizen or resident to hold your elected representatives accountable because they are after all representing you. The beauty of democracy is that you can let your voice be known and heard when your elected government is not leading in a way aligned with your views as a people or a community. It can feel small—making a call or attending a town hall—but these small acts are key and component to our democratic history and tradition. If you live in North America, you inherit that tradition.

If you find your government making decisions that you as a citizen or resident do not find sound, let that be known to your representatives.

Now, speaking particularly to those residing in the United States: the decisions that your governments—local, state, and federal—make, for better or worse, are a reflection to your fellow Americans and to the rest of the watching world of the American people, values, and way of life. If you find your government making decisions that you as a citizen or resident do not find sound, let that be known to your representatives.

Here’s one way to do this: you can contact your representatives quickly and easily through this action center from the Office of Social Justice (or for Canadians, this action centre from the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue). You can find various action opportunities, scripts to use when calling or emailing your representative, and a chance to sign up so that you receive an email when a new action opportunity comes up.

Contacting your representative is always worthwhile, but by making a phone call, you can have a greater impact than you could by sending an email. You can also check out 5calls.org for more advocacy opportunities and information to help you call your representatives.

If you live in North America, you are privileged with a government system that allows for citizens’ voices to be heard, to inform and sway leaders in how they lead.

Remember, check your sources. Find out what’s true and what is not true. And use your voice

[Image: Pexels]

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