Think before you click, indeed

IT’S timely, relevant, important.

GMA News’ “Think Before You Click” campaign is probably the best (or only?) media literacy campaign on the digital life which — I daresay — can even save lives. It advocates responsible use of social media — an attitude critical in a time when information dissemination at a personal level is already quick and easy.

The Economist described our times well: with social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook (and now Google+ enters the scene), the world is back to the coffee house of 1700s America. Information is floating in the din of the pub; sometimes nobody knows where the information comes from, but it’s there, free for redistribution.

“Think Before You Click” simply reminds social media users to be wary about what they post on their bulletins or feeds; the information they post just might be used to harm them. Think the forgetful, grumpy employee who badmouths the boss who happens to be one of his Twitter followers. And the trigger-happy lass who takes photos of her house and posts it on Facebook, available for public ogling by robbers and kidnappers. Sad.

But that’s just one side of the campaign. “Think Before You Click” is primarily a reminder against unfair and maleficent use of social media. What do you do to a tweet informing you about an acquaintance’s supposed scandalous misdeed? RT? Indeed, people now should also get the ideal journalist’s nose for truth. One has to measure the veracity of tweets first before retweeting them, especially when they are about people — and especially when one has hundreds of followers. And we’re talking about information on private people here, non-celebs who have no claim to nor dream of fame, ordinary people who want to be let alone.

One big minus to GMA News’ campaign, however, is its inclusion of Carlos Celdran as a model of responsible social media use. While a talented person, Mr. Celdran is among the most rabid anti-Catholic social media users, some of whose tweets and retweets were far from fair to the people involved.

Then again, we as ordinary news consumers, should also throw back the “think before you click” mantra at GMA News and other members of the “media elite” (thanks to Arnel Endrinal for the term): Think before you click “Publish”. And, especially when your piece is so “explosive” that certain actually-important details might have disappeared into the background, think twice.

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A footnote on technology and journalism

I’VE read somewhere that digital advances in journalism will lead us to greater transparency, contributing — as academics would say — to a more truthful discourse in society; and that we have to thank social media tools for that.

For example, look at how some news stories first came out as Facebook updates or as tweets. Recently, when Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago accidentally fell off the stage in a speaking engagement in Turkey (was it ala MIRIAM Quiambao? I’m unsure), her tweet about the sad fall became the primary source. The news unfolded in real time on my Twitter timeline. And Miriam’s tweet was publicly accessible, so news about the event already came as nearly insignificant.

Now gone, somehow, is the instance when it is impossible for readers immediately to verify the supposed truth of some reports. If the news is about a public person — preferably tech-savvy — you can now go straight to that person’s Twitter account to check his or her recent whereabouts (e.g. “Eating Buffalo wings. Yum!”). Instant primary source! No need for mediators.

And as regards online reading experience, Google Labs’ new guinea pig, Google Fast Flip, also has promise. With it, one no longer has to wait for 10 seconds or more (because of slow loading) in order to scan a news webpage…

Now all this is very, very commendable.

But it is good to remember that the value of media as an industry is not so much the media it uses as it is the integrity of the content it produces. We can each have iPads (or its likes) in the privacy of the john, reading the day’s “papers.” But if the papers’ contents are still not ethical or truthful, still we would rather flip through newsprint broadsheets that are.

Thus, amidst all these technological progress, going back to the basics of truth-telling and pursuing the good of each person should still possess supreme value in the practice of journalism. As a media consumer, I deserve nothing less than the true and the good, which are beautiful and the same.