We, the Editors, question the effectiveness of the current public discourse in our village. While no local government is immune to the spread of rumors and gossip, we have noticed a problem in Shorewood with the public forming their opinions on issues based on misinformation.
The recent HRC policy on decorations is just one example of how citizens can be fed inaccurate characterizations of issues through platforms such as Facebook. In fact, one of our editors recalled a conversation with a peer who said that the proposed policy meant that they wouldn’t be able to set up a Christmas tree in their own living room. Anyone who has taken a moment to read the publicly available meeting agendas would know that this isn’t true. In fact, the village isn’t even allowed by law to determine what you can or can’t display in your home. Despite this, outrage spread quickly both in person and over social media, with claims that the village was waging a “war on Christmas”.
While very biased and fundamentally false, these claims spread because of their enormous shock value. The nature of social media also feeds into it. Anyone who wants to can make a post, with evidence to support their claims or not, that shows up on hundreds of people’s timelines. As we scroll, we aren’t constantly vigilant about fact checking.
Unfortunately, misinformation can have a huge impact on our local governance. We can’t come to a common understanding if we can’t even agree on the basic facts of an issue, and boards and committees find themselves stuck wasting time trying to set the record straight about simple information. The result is an understandable sense of disillusionment with how the system works.
Any solution will need to involve Shorewood residents being more conscious of their information consumption habits. One way to do this is to look for information from official village channels, such as meeting agendas and minutes, which can be found on the school district’s and village board’s websites. As student journalists, this is how we find out lots of information about everything from parking ordinances to new administrators. It’s simple to access, as well as the best way to get facts with as little spin as possible.
Additionally, it’s important to be aware of any “buzzwords” you may use when writing a post or conversing with a friend. While terms like ‘war on Christmas’ certainly sound scary, do they really convey the reality of the situation? Any complex issue cannot be summed up in a slogan without conveying a version of events that isn’t entirely accurate. They can also be accusatory and shut down communication between sides, even if that was not the writer’s intention. We all must be more open and flexible if we want to understand each other and get things done in Shorewood.
Finally, if you really care about an issue, log off of Facebook and get involved. This can be done by attending meetings, joining a committee, running for office, or even just having conversations with your friends and neighbors. Just remember to keep them honest and empathetic. The most productive discourse occurs face to face, not in the comments section.