ethics after the mass-age
In the fierce world of new media, accusations of “fake” abound. But in reality we are experiencing an unregulated media moment, and, as in the past, it triggers questions of truth.
Truths are not facts.
Sometimes facts confirm truth; sometimes they conflict with truth. Truth is what we believe in, and what we believe is not always grounded in fact. Mythology has always played a role. Are myths fake? Should I agree with a carbon tax because of the science or because I believe in being a steward of God’s work? This is a real question the Studio had to grapple with when working with filmmaker Jeff Orlowski and his team on ideas to market his film “Chasing Coral.”
Facts are rational, observable things. Truths are stories. The two are conjoined. Richard Feynman, the famous physicist, was an amazing storyteller, opening us up to the beauty beneath the surface as he explains how the scientific facts of the flower deepens his appreciation for the truth of its beauty. And yet we often conflate truth and fact, and in our modern unregulated media environment, myth, or belief, is pitted often against science.
Back in the everyday world of marketing—political or commercial—stories are told to create trust and, as the McCann founder Harry McCann claimed, present “the truth well told.” In the regulated world of old media, especially broadcast media, there were boundaries placed on “the truth.” Ethical judgments were codified in laws and regulations that reflected, in democratic societies, agreed ethics. Media was managed through the tools of democratic process and the industry’s ethical practice.
In the social media world, there are no regulations. Democracy has not yet come to terms with a completely unregulated media absent of ethics. The truth has been released from constraints and become only mythical.
One of the biggest challenges we have now is the question of whom and what to trust. Integrity is critical to trust and difficult to maintain when truth becomes so relative, so mythical. In this context, adopting professional ethics offers a huge opportunity. Ethics can lead to integrity and enable trust. This is the founding principle of branding, for example: creating identities and presenting ideas that enable trust.
A conversation about the ethics of making media “content”—and the challenges faced by creative professionals—could start the process of growing a new media environment where “fake” content that degrades trust returns to being a thing on the fringe of media.