Posted by: Keegan Clements-Housser | December 5, 2016

The Case for (Dishonest) Communcations


In his article “The Case for Communications” published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Sean Gibbons makes a strong case for the importance of communications in non-profits and foundations.

He points out that organizations that are particularly good at communication, especially new communication that is primarily spread on a grass-roots level, tend to be much more effective at accomplishing their missions. One example he cites is the social media uproar that happened after the poaching of Cecil the lion,  a campaign started, managed, and encouraged by the World Wildlife Fund. According to Gibbons, their efforts increased media coverage of illegal poaching by 270 percent. It’s undeniably an impressive number.

So what happens when a non-profit or foundation puts forward a communication strategy that actively presents falsehoods as truth? A particularly noteworthy example would be the National Rifle Association (NRA). A quick check of their PolitiFact profile reveals that far more of their public claims are false than true. There have been several extensive articles by a multitude of publications documenting their misinformation campaigns. The narrative they weave is objectively false and misleading. Yet it cannot be denied that it’s a very successful strategy, and the NRA’s rhetoric shapes the political views of millions of members.

Gibbons is right—communication strategies are incredibly potent tools. It can be used to tackle important, critical challenges faced by humanity; or, it can be used to spread fear and misinformation. Media professionals take note, lest we remain complacent or worse: fall into the same trap.

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