They do it because “it works.”
“It” being inflammatory, often rude and hateful, even more often purposefully misleading communication. “They” being politicians. We’ve all been complaining about the tone of political ads and messages forever, yet astonishingly it seems to only have gotten worse with this election cycle.
This is not a rant against one political party or candidate. Both Democrats and Republicans have proven they are capable of exploring the depths of how far they can descend in terms of alarming, revolting and otherwise debasing the American population with their messages.
Think about it. The fact that media pundits have to “fact check” our politicians’ statements at all should be cause for alarm, but sadly we have grown accustomed to it as just a normal part of the political process. It’s not — or at least it shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t assume our leaders are lying to us.
Ethics for communicators
According to the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Code of Ethics for Professional Communicators — and I do maintain that politicians are professional communicators — they are required to “engage in truthful, accurate and fair communication that facilitates respect and mutual understanding.” In addition, they shall “engage in communication that is ethical and sensitive to cultural values and beliefs.”
Sound familiar? Me neither, at least not from the mouths of our current and aspiring political leaders. Take this tweet as an example (I won’t identify who it’s from): “I find it offensive that Goofy Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, pretended to be Native American to get in Harvard.”
Very presidential indeed.
While I could use this space to implore our political leaders to finally “shape up” and stop lobbing insults, innuendos and outright lies, I won’t. Why would I? It hasn’t worked in the past and won’t now. It’s not that they don’t know what they are doing. What they are doing works — for their purposes — because we let it. No, the solution lies with all of us.
Each of us can make a dent
We live in an era of “citizen journalism.” Each of us is, like never before, empowered to make a dent, or at least put a muzzle, on this sickening communications morass. Think social media. It is THE mouthpiece for real-time, inflammatory insult slinging and hate mongering. But it only works when we “like,” “retweet,” “share,” “comment,” “follow.”
Stop. Just stop. Take the power away (or better yet back) from those messages you know in your gut are just not right. Even if you generally agree with the political point of view, if you wouldn’t share this with your young child or elderly mother, don’t share it at all. Hillary Clinton has 7.3 million followers on Twitter; Donald Trump has 9.6 million. That is nearly 17 million of us who have the power to pull the plug on unethical and unseemly messages.
Am I optimistic about the future of political communications in this country and that they will eventually lead us all to a stronger democracy? I want to be. I really do. After all, what is the alternative? But we are headed in the wrong direction, and fast. Share this article if you’d like, but I implore you to think twice about retweeting the next slimy political post that crawls its way down your smartphone.
Susan Otten is president of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Minnesota.
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