Edward Pratt: Facing challenge of social media world

Earlier this week, I got “straightened out” by some folks at a meeting of a group I lead. For those who don’t know the jargon, “straightened out” means someone corrected me and told me the right thing to do.

I head a group that basically serves in an advisory position for another entity. There have been some issues that have crept up that neither the board nor the entity have caused to happen.

But, in this age of social media and folks who are up to no good, the situation has been misrepresented and exaggerated. In an effort to head off that awful mix, I decided that my board should tell only part of the bad news in an effort to lessen the amount of red meat for the social media goons to gnaw on.

Then I made a statement that the board would take up the whole issue at another date. It was then that my ship started taking on water.

One of the meeting participants — not a board member — said, “I think it would be good for everyone to know the whole story so we know what we are up against and what we should be contributing to.”

Then there was a chorus of supporters who either nodded their approval or chimed in with “yes.”

It was then that it hit me that I may have been changing into someone I had loathed years ago.

When I was on the sidelines with various organizations and especially when I was a newspaper reporter, I would push for free and open discussion. Let it all hang out. I always thought that people who seemed to be giving me only part of the story had something to hide. Well, yes they did — and now, so did I.

So now, the shoe was on the other foot — mine — and it was getting awfully uncomfortable.

My hesitance to tell everything has been shaped by those scoundrels who use social media to distort what our group is doing and to make false assertions. Their tweets and Facebook entries tend to take on a life of their own, and the truth gets lost in cyberspace.

I didn’t want that if I could help it.

Another meeting participant said this is kind of gathering where you tell everything “so that we know what the truth is and we can talk about it to other people.”

It made sense, but I was still hesitant, knowing the power of social media.

Then the young man, all of 18 years old, continued to speak.

Very calmly, he said, “You know, you can’t be afraid of social media. People are going to use it for whatever reason they want. But we can use it to get our message out … to get the truth out.”

“Social media is how we communicate,” he said. “We know how to tell what is the truth and what’s not.”

He explained that I should retreat from fear because, as I continue to use social media to explain the truth, that eventually I would win out.

Later, he told me, “It’s hard for us to back you up if we don’t feel we are getting the entire story, whatever it is. Whenever you are succeeding at anything, there will be people who try to work against you.”

“Don’t be afraid of what could or couldn’t happen,” he said, continuing to urge me to understand all of the intangibles that make social media the listening and visual post for his generation.

“As long as you tell the whole truth … you tell everything, you have witnesses to what is the truth,” he said, “and then you don’t have to worry.”

Wow — this young man is only 18 years old.

And, it has been my group’s intent to try to get more people of his age group to work with us, and he was the youngest we had ever attracted.

His words — “Don’t be afraid”and “tell the whole truth” — banged around in my head for hours afterward.

Thank you, Joseph Stevenson, for straightening me out.

Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is epratt1972@yahoo.com.