Media & Branding

Media literacy matters for my business - and for yours, too

What cases like Pizzagate taught me about the dangers of misinformation, and how a client compelled me to improve my own media literacy.

When I used to live on the upper side of Connecticut Avenue in Washington, DC, friends and I spent a lot of time at the nearby pizza place called Comet Ping Pong where we ate pizza, drank beers and, just as the name suggests, played ping pong. I eventually moved from that neighborhood in 2014, but everything about it continues to be nostalgic for me, including Comet Ping Pong.  

Just over two years after I moved out from the neighborhood, on December 4, 2016,  28-year-old Edgar Welch from North Carolina walks into Comet Ping Pong with an AR-15 and fires shots in anger and protest against the restaurant’s supposed role in hosting satanic rituals/child molestation ring/sex trafficking for Washington elites.  

While no one was physically hurt, the signs that this was coming were there.

Only a week prior, the owner of Comet Ping Pong had said in an interview with NPR that he and his staff were receiving death threats which confounded them. It was only after going deeper into this that he learned of the false conspiracy that his restaurant is the location of some human trafficking activity. To back the claim were photos of his friends and colleagues’ children in Comet Ping Pong taken from his Instagram account posted around thousands of fake news sites, Reddit and YouTube as visual proof that innocent children are being victimized at his restaurant.  

As a small business owner, pizza lover and former regular of Comet Ping Pong, I’m relieved to see the pizzeria continue to thrive. But as a multimedia specialist, it’s hard to ignore countless others who weren't as lucky.

Everyday, social media is used to spread rumors which are created under the guise of political or “moral” conviction. And the rest of us share them without questioning their authenticity because they resonate with our world views. But when we do, we don't think about who will get hurt.

It’s been a few years since I started my own business creating videos, graphics, and other images to elevate the true stories of my clients who do good work. So every time I see the very media I use to build up the truth to educate, empower and inspire being weaponized to enrage, incite fear and create baseless new narratives, it’s hard not to feel offended and a little bit scared about what this can do to impact the credibility of my work and the work of other multimedia specialists like me.

Every time I see the very media I use to build up the truth to educate, empower and inspire being weaponized, it’s hard not to feel offended and a little bit scared about its impact on my work and the work of other multimedia specialists like me.

And then one day, I did the very thing that offends me.

I created a new narrative for a client using a dramatically filmed video stock…and didn’t even realize what I did. I still cringe when I think back to when she explained to me, frame by frame, why this footage was not appropriate to include in the final version of the video for the very fact that none of it represented the real story.  

I thought I was providing historical context but didn't realize I was implicitly identifying my client with the people in the video--which would have been both inaccurate and misleading.

That’s when I knew I needed to change the way I view multimedia, too, if I am to stay true to my business’s principles. So I recently enrolled in a certification course which not only increases my own media literacy but also gives me the tools to identify misused images and videos and understand their intentions to mislead.

Through a series of posts over the next year, I will share tips, tools and personal observations which I hope help others.

Even though Pizzagate has gone down in history as a proven example of fake information ending in harmful real life consequences, there are many businesses, people and communities we will not know about who have lost their income, reputations, businesses, relationships and even lives because of the harm sharing unverified information has caused.

But with a little bit of honest self-examination of our own media literacy - which I admit isn’t easy and is rather humbling – along with a few tools to empower our ability to uncover fake visuals when we see it, I have hope that we can all collectively do our part to slow the flow of misinformation and the harm it can cause on all of us.