It can be difficult for fact-based evidence to gain traction across a social media landscape fraught with polarization, where it’s easy for people to retreat to information bubbles that confirm their biases: A landscape where some platforms prohibit misinformation — at least in their guidelines — while others don’t. Where algorithms carry gender and racial biases. Where users share news articles without reading them. And where news stories that go viral may lack nuance, or convey misinformation from credentialed experts.
There is a constant conflict, for journalists and public officials alike, between circulating information based on the best evidence and doing so in a way that is comprehensive yet easy for people to understand and share with colleagues, friends and family.
This is especially true in a communications environment where shareability, not accuracy, means profitability for social media companies. It’s important for people involved in disseminating truth to understand the challenges they’re up against.
Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications at the United Nations, discussed the challenges of public communication in a polarized world during a Dec. 10, 2021 talk hosted by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School.