Are you battle-ready? Let’s share strategies at AHCJ 2019 for social media finesse in an age of ‘alternative facts’

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Brian Southwell

You’ve laced up your combat boots and fastened your helmet. Your Kevlar vest is safely snug against your chest. Your emergency first aid kit is nearby, with a couple different sedatives and anti-anxiety meds, potable alcohol, and multiple tissue boxes. You are ready to go on Twitter. Let the battle begin.

While yes, I jest, it’s no joke that the divisiveness and flood of falsehoods on Twitter can be maddening and even emotionally (not to mention cognitively) exhausting. You could spend 24-7 on Twitter correcting misconceptions, exaggerations and flat-out lies and make less impact than a drop of water on a wildfire. And that’s while pretending that Facebook, Pinterest and other sites don’t exist.

At the same time, we’re journalists. We prize truth, accuracy and equal access to information above all else. We have a duty to inform—which is impossible if we lose our minds interacting with trolls online.

So let’s talk strategy. Join Brian G. Southwell, Ph.D., the program director of Science in the Public Sphere at RTI International, and myself, Tara Haelle, for an afternoon town hall-style discussion on Thursday, May 2 at Health Journalism 2019 in Baltimore for the session, “Journalism’s role in the age of social media misinformation.” While Southwell and I will open with some general thoughts and data points about social media misinformation, we want this session to be an open forum in which we’ll consider some of the challenges of interacting on social media as journalists.

How do we establish a balance between engaging constructively on social media and finding ourselves falling down a dozen rabbit holes? How do we tell the trolls and sea lions from earnest folks who want to see misinformation corrected and misunderstandings clarified? How far do we go in sharing our own opinions without compromising our ethical roles as fair and balanced truth seekers? Do you engage with the haters and denialists or just block? Or mute instead? How do you know when it’s time to leave a conversation? How can we show support for basic human rights (if we choose) without coming across as partisan in a way that may harm our credibility?

There is no Art of War tome to guide us through this treacherous territory, but perhaps we can talk strategy and come up with some rules of engagement to make interaction less fraught—and less of a time suck when we find ourselves screaming because “someone is wrong on the internet.” Again, we won’t have any simple answers, but we want to hear from others, and perhaps together we can come away with some helpful tools and guidelines for social media interaction in which we lose neither our heads nor our stomachs. Join us Thursday afternoon!

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