As things return to normal after Christmas, I’ve thought a lot about what 2020 will be like for myself and those close to me.
It’s my 45th year, which makes me officially middle aged and will soon see me enter a different age drop down category in online surveys. It’s a big one for me personally and professionally. I feel grateful to start it in good health, with a happy family and a brilliant role as director at Social’s South West office.
The last decade has brought huge changes – political, social, technological – which confounded many predictions and upended the status quo. We started it as a family in Manchester before moving to the South West in 2010 and making a new life here. Through all of that, the most important and constant factor for me was the people: family, friends and colleagues, some of whom I worked with in 2010. They helped make 2019 a year to remember.
On New Year’s Eve, we were with friends who I’ve known for more than 25 years. Christmas was poignant for some of them after they suffered a family bereavement, on 25 December of all days. Although it was upsetting to hear about it, it was good to know that they found it helpful to be with us. It’s clear that there’s lots to look forward to also.
I go back to work feeling optimistic and recharged, despite all that’s happened (and not happened) in the country and world at large. Looking at the negativity and invective dealt out in some quarters online, there’s a contrast between my direct experiences and what’s reported and discussed. This has made me think about my priorities for 2020, and how I respond to them.
Evolving online engagement
My online behaviour is one element that’s changed as Twitter and Facebook have become more argumentative and filled with misinformation. Although Twitter remains a good space to connect with people with shared interests, it’s not a place for balanced discussion.
At the start of the last decade and during my time as a government comms person, I regularly engaged in online discussions when challenged. Today, I will block users in response to abusive, often anonymous and sometimes completely untrue comments. Trying to respond to these posts meaningfully or with a witty comment can be draining and takes up too much time. It’s also not working. Many people get this more than me and have other ways of dealing with it.
I know people in Bristol who have useful thoughts to contribute online about important issues facing the city. They say they don’t engage because they’re concerned about the abuse they will get from certain accounts.
This highlights a big challenge facing communicators in the next decade: maintaining trust in the face of misinformation, misplaced hostility and manipulation.
Spin and manipulation have always been around, it’s true. But recent events suggest that we’re closer to an Orwellian space where double-speak prevails than at any point in recent generations. The coarsening and shrillness of online debate (and the forces behind some of this) adds to the challenge. Many people will not engage in these debates unless they feel safe to do so.
Yes, social media companies should do more to address this and regulation is also part of the solution. We should also recognise that we all have a role to play in resetting the terms of engagement. Engaging respectfully, checking the facts before sharing posts and reporting and calling out unacceptable behaviour can help to create a space where others can confidently behave positively.
Don’t look back in anger…
Last year was a blast, and I think this year will be even better. There are many things to look forward to and lots to do. Spending time and energy on the things and people that matter is the best way to do this. If you’re one of those people, I’m looking forward to it!
If, however, you don’t have an online identity and are up for a row – or worse – don’t be offended if you don’t get a response online. As I’ve said, there’s lots to do this year. I am always happy to meet for a coffee though – just drop me a line.
To everyone else who knows me, thanks for your engagement and support and have a great 2020.