Public policy conflicts abound. At The ACCORD3.0 Network, we get involved in fights over old growth forests, energy production, trade and tax policies, agricultural production, feral animals, land planning, water supply, ocean cleanup, and more. It is what we do. We try to help people create constructive engagements and dialogues that lead to real problem solving.
Our task today is infinitely harder than it was ten years ago, in part, because of two macro-trends that seem to be intersecting. If you take a look, the challenge of getting to healthier collaboration is exacerbated by the decline in confidence and trust in institutions and what seems to be a tsunami of social media. The decline of one is intersecting with the rise of the other.
The National Science Foundation, Pew Research, and others have started to study and document both trends and they are worth noting. Confidence in government continues to plummet, not just in the U.S., but also in all Western countries. Government institutions – local, state, and federal – aren’t immune. Trust in churches, universities, school systems, and scientific research enterprises, maybe even in most administrative bureaucracies, is on the wane.
Meanwhile, the rise of social media amplifies public conflicts in ways we never anticipated. Project proponents are learning to use social media to advance their causes and prepare information storms that appear (often uninvited) on our Facebook pages, twitter accounts, texts, e-mails, and Snapchats. The goal of these is attention and persuasion. They say: “Look at me and here is why you should believe what I am saying.”
On the other side, project opponents also use social media to mobilize potential sympathizers. Jan Tenbruggencate, a Hawaiʻi-based writer and former newspaperman, put it this way*:
Social media is a powerful force. From my perspective, it is comparable to Germany’s World War II tactic, the “Blitzkrieg.” For the Blitzkrieg, or lightning war, the three fundamental characteristics were identification of weakness, speed of action, and the use of the most modern technology available—in Germany’s case, the technology was modern tanks and dive bombers. They took Poland in a month and blew through Holland in just four days. Today’s blizkriegers do much the same. They identify vacuums of support, move fast, and run on social media. Tweets and Facebook posts are the new tanks.
Social media is the new reality. It creates memes and narratives that mitigate against efforts to work together for solutions. A question for exploration is how do we use social media when we are trying to build new collaborative discussions on very hard topics.
We welcome your ideas.
*This quote is from an ACCORD-sponsored conference panel presentation.