In April 2020, a friend and I decided to start a digital media literacy initiative. We wanted to combat the rampant misinformation happening at the start of COVID-19. The idea was to infiltrate people’s social media feeds with thoughtful posts about how to approach current topics. Thus, ThinkFirst News was born. At the onset, this worked well. Our page’s posts were consistent and people took notice. Then the news got worse, misinformation more nefarious, and online comments more divided. It culminated with an explosion in our home country of Lebanon that shook our ability to handle the negativity.
We limped through a few weeks following the blast. Our posts became infrequent and as we got ready to ramp up again, then the elections in the US came crashing in. This was the final blow for my own sanity. The sheer volume of unpleasant, poorly reported news, and online vitriol broke me. Operating ThinkFirst became quite difficult. It felt as though there were no more lessons to teach, and no one to listen. No matter what we would say, we would upset someone from the left or the right. It became clear that the only effective way to reach the masses was to pander to a side, but we were not interested in that.
As the year comes to a close and a new strain of COVID-19 is emerging, we’ve seen almost no change in these behaviours. ThinkFirst still gets an occasional update, but it’s been challenging to figure out what to say next. This year, I was fortunate enough to land Ground News as a client. They are tackling online polarization by highlighting the political leanings of news outlets. While I laud their effort, we need more efforts like beyond news outlets. We need solutions across a variety of different areas if we are to gain any traction towards constructive social discourse.
The spirit of ThinkFirst lives on, even if we have momentarily found it difficult to find inspiration. For the last decade there have been two issues at the forefront of my mind: Digital media literacy and proactivity towards algorithms. We need to inform our next iterations of digital tools with the latest discoveries in neuroscience. We can no longer sit idly by as our devices place funnels of sh*t down our throats. The giant digital platforms, once the beacons of innovation, cannot correct the course of society on their own.
My time for sitting back and thinking about this ended in early 2020. I have taken some preliminary actions towards solutions but I am not satisfied. There is far too much work to do, far too many minds to save, and far too much abuse to curtail. There are also far too many possibilities. I will not pretend to be confident about what the next step should be, but I know I want to take it.
If you are also interested in this, I would love to meet you — even if it’s for a sanity-saving chat. You can reach me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or my email, which you can find here.
We can only fix this together.