by Dan Ward
I gained some insight last week into why political discourse continues to devolve into schoolyard taunting and soccer hooliganism.
A former social media strategist for a presidential campaign was speaking to a group of PR professionals and made an off-hand remark that the No. 1 destination to which Americans turn for news – aside from “The Daily Show” – is the online message board. My first thought was, “so this explains why politicians rant and rave rather than engage in conversation … they think that’s what people want to hear.”
I wish I had challenged her to share the research on which this claim was based, because I can find nothing to back it up. The Pew Research Center reports that while people are increasingly going online for news, most still turn to traditional sources like television news. I see very little mention of the message boards.
While the political strategist advised posting to the message boards, we advise most clients to stay far away. Who we see on the message boards are largely the “ten-percenters,” those people whose opinions you are never going to change no matter how hard you try – as evidenced by LOUD comments and inflammatory rhetoric – when you engage the lunatic fringe, you give them credibility, and you take your eye off the larger percentage of people who are fair-minded, reasonable and open to new ideas.
As we’ve discussed here before, the people who share their opinions on message boards are able to do so anonymously, so all sense of decency is often lost. Many news organizations are seeing the light, and either eliminating the anonymity or removing message boards altogether.
If you want to engage in fruitless arguments, by all means head to the message boards. If you want to engage in discussion that sways opinion and drives action, don’t listen to political strategists … listen to your audience.