Tag Archives: authoritarian

The biggest stories

What’s the biggest news story of your lifetime?

Neil Armstrong on the moon

Has it really been 50 years? (Photo Source: NASA)

For me, two stories have stood above the rest. While both of them took years to play out, they both, by coincidence, culminated in years that ended with 9:

  • On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. When the Apollo 11 crew returned safely to earth, it fulfilled a goal set by President John F. Kennedy eight years earlier.
  • On November 9, 1989, crowds of Germans danced on top of the Berlin Wall — the death rattle for Communist domination of Eastern Europe.

Two more stories

Recently, however, I’ve added two more stories to my list. I wonder if either one will see a turning point, or even a culmination, in this 9 year.

  • The earth’s climate is warming, and people are suffering the effects. Almost everyone in the scientific community agrees that the warming is caused by human activity, and that unless we quickly change [our energy consumption], the disastrous effects will be irreversible.
  • In Europe and the United States, right-wing nationalist leaders, preying on people’s fears and sowing division, are consolidating power and threatening to turn democracies into authoritarian states.
Fire in Paradise, California

Paradise, California – November 2018. Will climate change end up being the top news story of the 21st century? (Photo Source: NBC News)

I don’t know whether either story will end happily, as my first two stories did. But I know that happy endings are possible only if we, the people, demand openness and truth from those who hold economic and political power.

I think we all know the truth about climate change. But because so many powerful people pretend not to know, or simply don’t care, we risk doing grave damage to the world our children and grandchildren will inhabit.

Would-be authoritarian leaders, of course, consolidate power by distorting the truth: by gaslighting, and by suppressing facts they deem to be inconvenient. They get away with it when we, the people, don’t call them to account.

Truth: worth fighting for

For years, I’ve said and written that truth is absolute, that it’s a cornerstone of a free society, and that it’s worth fighting for.

But, to my dismay, I’ve seen that a lot of people simply don’t care about truth. I’m not talking now about the would-be dictators. I’m talking about ordinary citizens who simply shrug their shoulders, comfortable to live in ignorance.

Whether you believe in making New Year’s resolutions or not, I hope that in this 9 year you’ll resolve to speak up for truth and, if necessary, fight to defend it. I have.

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Content questions: will we have the answers?

This is about information: who controls its flow, who uses it, and who watches you when you use it.

This is about you. Because you access information — or content — on the internet, and because you probably create it as well.

Will someone have the power to tell you what content is and is not appropriate? Who controls what happens to the content you publish? Will someone use your content to deceive or mislead?

Just this month, 3 news stories have brought these questions into sharper focus. Will we, as writing professionals, have good answers? We’d better, because I don’t know if anyone else will.

When is content inappropriate? Who decides?

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Scene from a recent ad appearing on Twitter’s website and in movie theaters

On March 1, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey promised to start measuring the platform’s “health” as a first step to freeing users from trolls and propaganda. (Josh Bernoff does a great job of  breaking down the announcement.) Admitting that “we didn’t fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences” of Twitter’s free-for-all format, Dorsey promises to get busy and fix the problem.

Can he fix it?  Can he put the lid back on Pandora’s box? It strikes me as too little, too late. Continue reading