How we may end up with too much information
Big brother is watching us all. The official evidence available from the Communications Marketing Report from Ofcom reveals that we spend a lot of time watching the small (and sometimes not so small) screen and listening to the radio.
The ‘spies’ watching our habits know that in Northern Ireland we watch live TV for an average of three hours and 36 minutes each day. We also listen, on average, to nearly three hours of radio each day.
With an average of over six hours viewing or listening, that must be the biggest single chosen activity for most people, excluding work and sleeping. That opens the temptation to debate the merits of that choice. However, aside from taking the usual attitude that we spend too much time watching TV or listening to radio, these figures do underline the continuing influence of the broadcasting media.
Then add the time taken to keep up with the written word of newspapers and current affairs magazines and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that today’s generation are subject to (and willing to accept) an impossibly large information flow. The availability of an almost infinite flow of information creates other problems.
First, how well trained and disciplined are the information users in selecting a choice of sources? The short answer is that choice in using communications sources is often far from scientific or purposeful. In turn, that choice contains a very complex mixture of deciding what I need to know, deciding what I am generally interested in and subconsciously learning what advertisers want me to learn.
In the words of a prominent American political figure, the flow of information can contain large amounts of ‘fake news’, but what is fake and what is genuine takes us into the realm of a mixture of personal judgments.
Living in Northern Ireland brings its own series of local dimensions to coping with information overload. Media providers try to be comprehensive and accurate. But, what is comprehensive and accurate to one person can be biased in the ears and eyes of others. As a regular viewer and user of BBC, ITV, RTE and France 24 (English language) the understanding of ‘ the facts’ day by day, points to the influence of editorial decisions, some of them not even consistent between programmes from one source.
Standing back, this diversity opens the way to ask whether the width and range of information and entertainment is, in some forms, dangerous. Multi-channel TV opens the way to political rhetoric which can be seen as treasonable or seriously objectionable. In this corner of western Europe, there is an acceptance of very controversial broadcasting material usually emanating from non-domestic sources. We like to consider that in the UK and Ireland we have a liberal tolerant diversity of communications material where we rely on viewers to use their own discretion. Long may that remain!
The risks from portrayal of violence, treasonable ideas and unwelcome pornography become part of a spectrum of communications where we rely on the not too rigorous mentoring of various standard setting bodies.
Into the range of communications channels, increased interaction with the internet must be added. Some 98% of homes have access to TV, slightly more than the UK average of 94%. Radio is available in 89% of homes, compared to a UK average of 90%. The changing scene lies in the extended use of the internet: 88% of UK homes have internet access. NI is slightly behind with 83% now connected.
Northern Ireland’s communications channels are now multi-sourced and comparable with the overall UK investment. As to whether these modern devices being used to best effect, can we settle for ‘not yet’?
Whether we like it or not, social media is an integral part of everyday life, and charities, like all other organisations, should be considering the impact it can have and incorporating it into their objectives and longer-term strategies.
Considered by some as ‘slacktivism’ — an exercise that appears to do good while achieving very little — there is little doubt that social media can be a powerful tool in the third sector.
In 2014, £8m was raised for Cancer Research UK in six days, thanks to the No Make-up Selfie Campaign, and in the same year, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised more than $115m (£89m) for the ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) Association.
Ultimately, the outcome of the Ice Bucket Challenge was the dis- covery of a gene variant associated with motor neurone disease, by a scientist funded with the proceeds of the initiative.
Twitter’s mission statement is, “To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers”, while Facebook UK says it wants to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”.
The potential impact that social media can have is huge for charities, allowing them to share snippets of information, engage in a short exchange of views and gauge whether a particular issue is important to audiences.
According to a report published by Grant Thornton last year, 72% of the top 100 charities in England and Wales are active on all three of the main social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin). Only 6% do not use any.
Their Twitter accounts average 196,000 followers, more than twice that in 2015, when the figure was 94,000. The trend continues with charity CEOS; 43% of the top 100 charities’ CEOS have a Twitter account, with an average following of 2,400.
From a governance perspective, it is vital that charities and their boards consider the risks and opportunities involved with social media. Trustees should consider the following; what part does social media play in our strategic plan; who reports to the board about social media strategy and outcomes, and what is their level of experience; do we have guidelines for those staff and volunteers using social media and how do we encourage use while mitigating risk; what resources have we allocated to social media projects and how do we measure our return on investment; and can we use social media to reach new beneficiaries?
Whether it is seizing opportunities as part of the next viral campaign, or tweeting a new press release, social media is one of the most crucial and visible channels for charities, and it can be a cost-effective way of self-promotion and attracting of new stakeholders and beneficiaries.
Charities should ensure that social media is high on their agenda, identifying benefits and potential risks, to help support the charity achieve its objectives.
Ofcom says we spend an average of three hours 36 minutes watching TV every day