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Actions have consequences. Cause and effect. Even words are actions with consequences, effects that are caused by the speaking aloud of those words. If you shout into an empty canyon, you’ll get an echo. It’s been popularized (but never proven and highly doubtful) that shouting loud enough can cause an avalanche.
Podcasters aren’t immune to this fundamental reality. The actions we take on our show, typically in the form of the words we speak into a microphone, have consequences. Nor is podcasting special in this regard. The same holds true - and has held true - for all forms of media. Big media or small media. Independent media or corporate media. Social media and any other type of media. Nothing is immune. If you say it (or write it) there will be consequences. That’s how the universe works. It’s simple cause and effect.
Our Information Age Has Plenty of Mis- and Dis- To Go Around
It should come as a surprise to no one that the media we consume is polluted by misinformation and disinformation. Poll a few people and most will tell you they think the flow of false and misleading information is increasing. And though I haven’t done the surveys to confirm, I think that’s directionally correct. Misinformation and disinformation aren’t new concepts. But the amount of information we consume on all forms of media has without question increased. So even if the percentage of garbage info to factual info has remained fairly constant, it’s a safe bet that we’re exposed to more misinformation and disinformation than ever before.
Podcasting is part of that media mix, which means that podcasting has a similar level of misinformation and disinformation propagating through the podosphere. I’m not casting blame or shade. That’s our shared reality.
It’s also a problem that extends well beyond the borders of podcasting in the States. Disinformation and misinformation permeate all forms of media in every country. It might be better or worse for some countries based on a variety of endemic political, social, and economic factors, but no citizen of any country is insulated against misinformation and disinformation.
Threatened Money Fights Back
Though I’m reticent to assign blame and am quite aware that correlation does not equal causation, there’s an argument to be made that the perceived increase in falsifiable claims in podcasting and all forms of media is due, at least in part, to a privileged class feeling threatened.
Because we can talk all we want about the egalitarian nature of podcasting and how any podcast host has the same chance as every other podcast host to make it big. But that’s bullshit. There may not be (and there isn’t) a smoky dark room where monied old white men decide what podcasts get the most attention. But there are organizations with a vested interest (and power, and money, and influence) in keeping the status quo the status quo, if only to profit from others who also want the world to remain static. Or roll backward.
This isn’t a conspiracy. This is human nature. When those in power feel threatened by societal change, often a change that’s been decades in the making, they react. Misinformation and disinformation - either in the form of blatant propaganda or by echoing the fears of others in power - are often deployed in an attempt to stem the tide.
And once again, podcasting is not immune. When those threatened have a podcast, they shout louder. They become more reactionary. And willingly or unwillingly, they perpetuate the misinformation and disinformation. It’s in their immediate financial interest to do so.
Podcasting’s Crooked Path Towards Justice
When examined solely on the basis of available observational evidence, the universe doesn’t care about us. If anything, the universe as we know it is actively hostile to life. It’s a fluke that we’re here at all. And if the fossil record teaches us one thing, it’s that our species too has a limited shelf life.
But let’s leave that depressing reality (a depressing reality we can do nothing about) behind for a moment and focus down on humanity overall. There's an old saying attributed to Theodore Parker that I, like many before me, am going to bastardize for my own purposes. Here it is:
“The arc of the moral universe is often crooked, but it bends towards justice.”
That means that bad things happen. There are setbacks. New atrocities will be dreamed up and inflicted upon groups of people. Yes, those things are true. But when examined in totality and on a long enough timescale, things tend to get better. Not all at once. And not for all people. Sometimes it takes years, decades, or centuries. But the trend towards justice does seem to exist.
And so while podcasting currently has (and always has had) a fair amount of misinformation and disinformation in it, and a fair amount of privileged class members feeling threatened by changes they are just now picking up on that have been rolling through society for some time; it is (or will be) trending towards justice.
Meet Those Working To Change Podcasting From The Inside Out
There’s a growing movement inside the podcasting landscape working to curtail the misinformation and disinformation that permeates our medium. They certainly won’t make any friends with the privileged class, but they aren’t trying to make friends.
Some have microphones of their own, but many are exerting their influence on the words that go into those mics or before the words reach our ears. The bigger the show (in terms of audience, revenue, and influence), the more support staff required to keep the machine running. And a growing number of people working inside podcasting are realizing they too have a voice.
They’re taking a stand against the misinformation and disinformation often disguised by the privileged class as “opinions” or “just asking questions”. They're stepping up saying, “No, we won’t be a part of this”. They're banding together and taking their grievances up the ladder, trying to convince shareholders and stakeholders why misinformation and disinformation is damaging to the platform and organizational brand. And they’re not being quiet about the very real need to, if not eliminate, then seriously reduce the amount of information and disinformation that's distributed from the organization that signs their paycheck.
How Will You React, Working Podcaster?
The activism we’re seeing in podcasting isn’t going away. This trend towards responsibility is a grassroots effort that will continue, as it has been continuing. So what are you going to do about it?
I see one of three choices you have to make.
- You can help. You can help straighten the crooked path. You can actively fight the spread of misinformation and disinformation by simply not spreading it on your show. You can speak up when others in your sphere of influence fall short of that. You can work to change podcasting for the better.
- You can get out of the way. Not everyone has the stomach for fighting. We need lots of podcasters making great content that has nothing to do with “the fight”. So yes, you can choose to not engage and step out of the way.
- You can get run over. The purveyors of misinformation and disinformation aren’t going to stop. But those actively fighting it will get better in their ability to detect falsehoods. They’ll be better equipped with more options to take action against shows and hosts who continue to distribute misinformation. So sure, you can get caught up in that if you want, I guess?
Remember the arc of the moral universe is often crooked, but it does bend towards justice. Even in podcasting.
Heavy stuff, I know. Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking about another podcaster who needs to hear this message? And if not this message, then perhaps another thought-provoking episode of mine? The only way Podcast Pontifications grows is when one podcaster tells another, so do that!
And if you’re digging the concepts I bring to life on the show, please go to BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra and toss a couple of shekels my way.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.