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Blurred lines between fact and fiction in the search for authenticity

Watching Mark Zuckerberg over the recent times has been revealing. Congressmen wanting straight answers to questions where there aren’t any, apart from “yes” his data was compromised as well. Boom! That makes a good headline.

The reality is we now live in a world where there isn’t any privacy. It isn’t Zuckerberg’s fault. We opened Pandora’s box decades ago when the internet was born and sadly it hasn’t grown up to be the friendly fellow we hoped for. The web doesn’t have a life of its own (yet), but it is a shape shifter, a pure reflection of us, wonderful when good, horrific when bad and every shade in between. What else did we think would happen?

We can’t expect the big internet players to look after us, and governments seem to be some way behind the curve as usual. Zuckerberg’s message is that the controls are there on our screens and we need to learn to use them. Period. But that doesn’t change the game. In the past, we were used to taking what we read and saw in the media at face value. We all had our trusted brands reflecting and shaping our world view. In the new era of fake media that’s all gone. The gap between fact and fiction seems to have finally evaporated.

How does this affect the daily decisions we make? Are we happy to live in a fantasy world? Some people are, but most are now looking for honesty and authenticity. Increasingly, we are asking where our food is from, who made our clothes or shoes, what’s in our cosmetics, where does all this stuff go when we are done with it, and who do we believe is telling the truth about it all?

The optimism that was the foundation of the web has transformed into something much darker. This will only increase over time. So now more than ever it becomes critical to define and live by the truth of who we are and what we are doing as brands and businesses.

We are seeing a return to who and what we know. Family and friends. Micro communities of those who share our values. Zuckerberg says he is cutting back on news streaming and returning Facebook to a focus on friends. This is a positive move, even if it is a cynical result of current pressure. It also reflects how we may make most decisions in future. It’s a return to the notion of neighbours. New virtual communities reflect the same idea. It’s about who you know and trust.

Our old constructs based on mass media thinking don’t work anymore. Even the mass targeting of individuals, the programmatic holy grail, will be outed if not authentic and truthful. Trusted communities have a habit of going viral. That’s the real power of today’s networking platforms. They enable scalability for the best and most authentic ideas, the ones that ring out as truthful and valuable, that bring a spark of colour and optimism in a sea of grey half-truths and monotony.

The writer is Nigel Smith, group CEO, DIA Brands.

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