Why the 2018 word of the year is a call to action for public leaders
In case you missed it, lexicographers at Dictionary.com recently revealed their word of the year for 2018: misinformation. According to an article announcing the designation, “misinformation” is not just one of the more highly searched terms of 2018, it’s a “call to action.” Coincidentally, it’s also the impetus behind a new ebook designed to help public leaders better educate and engage with their constituents.
So, what exactly is “misinformation” and why should you care? The online dictionary defines it as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” And last year, the dissemination of false information achieved unprecedented global reach. In an interview with the Associated Press, Dictionary.com linguist Jane Solomon explained that, “The rampant spread of misinformation is really providing new challenges for navigating life…”
Those challenges affect us all — citizens and public leaders alike. In a video produced by Dictionary.com, a diverse panel of experts and activists weighed in on the word of the year, the implications going forward, and why it’s incumbent upon all of us to fight the propagation of false information, both online and in our daily discourse.
Edward Wasserman, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, summed it up this way, “Falsity has now increasingly been woven into the fabric of what political discourse looks like, which makes it harder and harder for citizens to sort out what the fact base is on which they base their judgements about policy and about social directions.”
In an age when anybody and everybody has a platform and a story to tell, it’s increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction, or in the current vernacular, truth from “fake news.” Even news outlets pick up on false information, or at least the sentiment reacting to it.
All of this conspires to erode public trust in institutions and more specifically in government. In fact, public trust in government right now is near an all-time low. In the 60 years since the National Election Study began measuring such things, trust has been on a steady downward trajectory. According to the Pew Research Center, only 18 percent of Americans today say they trust the government to do what is right.
This new reality can be particularly daunting for public leaders — especially local leaders — looking to build consensus and support in their communities. So, how do we rebuild trust, advocate for truth, and combat the toxic spread of misinformation? In a time when perception is reality, public officials — like business owners, entrepreneurs, and even private citizens — need to step up and control their narrative.
You need to tell your story before someone else does. Building an open and transparent online presence is the first step. For public leaders, your 2019 call to action is to become a source of truth in your community by fighting the proliferation of fake news with facts.
Are you ready to kick off the new year by resolving to use data to drive discourse? ClearGov can help.
We recently partnered with Martin O’Malley — two-term mayor of Baltimore and and two-term governor of Maryland — to create a free best practices guide for civic leaders trying to navigate the new realities of governance in this age of misinformation.
Widely recognized for his innovative, data-driven approach to policy and administration, O’Malley has earned a reputation as a pragmatic and effective public leader committed to empowering fellow public servants with the tools and insights they need to better communicate, connect, and engage with their communities. To find out how you can start leveraging the power of the internet and other information technologies to drive transparency and ultimately build public trust and consensus, download The New Realities of Public Leadership now.