Updated 3 months, 3 weeks ago

How storytelling is running the world

“Those who tell the stories run the world. Politics has failed through a lack of competing narratives. The key task now is to tell a new story of what it is to be a human in the 21st century,” wrote George Monbiot in The Guardian after Trump’s election.

And yes, storytelling has always worked better than showing people statistics or facing them with hard checked facts. A story has 4 pillars: people, places, purpose and a plot. Muse for example is a storytelling process that maximizes each of these pillars and develops a story that is engaging, felt, remembered and compels action. It is currently being used by and for brands like Canon, CBS, the United Nations, TEDx and the Sundance Film Festival.

Muse itself shows how telling one personal story will lead to more action than any statistic because of the Identifiable Victim Effect. This means when one victim is made into a cause there can be outpouring of support, instead when there’s an enormous need people’s response can be more unsympathetic.

Bringing this to reality we can see how Colombia is being moved right now by the story of a seven-year-old girl who was found dead hours after she was abducted. Her story serves as a cause to demand justice in the country and propel campaigns against gender-based violence just after a week after the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was celebrated. Also, protests have sparkled in Colombian main cities and her case has become a social media trend.  

In cases like this storytelling serves a greater good, in which people get to know good causes to follow and support or pressure the government do more.

However, when storytelling meets fake news we have a big problem.

Post truth was chosen by Oxford Dictionaries as the Word of the Year 2016, because it “captures the ethos, mood or preoccupations” of the last 12 months. The word refers to “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

After the US elections, a report by BuzzFeed showed that the top malicious fake news stories actually outperformed legitimate news shared by some of the most popular media companies. The top one was the false “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement,” which, according to Business Insider got 960,000 engagements when it was shared by Ending The Fed.

Also, The New York Times has shown a case study on How Fake News Goes Viral, showcasing Eric Tucker’s tweet about paid protesters being bused to demonstrations against President-elect Donald Trump that fueled a nationwide conspiracy theory, even if it was proven to be false.

But false news is nothing new. What’s new is how large segments of society are believing things that are untrue.

Partly mainstream media is to blame because some journalists have lost the urge to double check what they’re reporting or base the newsworthy material through Twitter trending topics. As one, I believe this has to do with making your job easier, but this doesn’t make it right. For example, it is easier to report about what some politician wrote on his account than actually contacting him and getting more than the 140 characters everyone else can report on.

But readers and viewers are also to blame. They can’t just believe everything they’ve been told; they need to find ways to determine if what they’re reading is true before taking further action.

In a recent NPR article, the site gives readers advice on how to self-check the news and get the facts. Among their advice they focus on:

-Paying attention to the domain and URL

-Reading the About Us section

-Looking at the quotes in a story

-Looking at who said them

-Checking the comments

-Reverse image search

Although this might seem as a lot to do just to verify is something is real or not it is a huge part in having a fundamental sense of media literacy.

With storytelling having more impact than facts and social media expanding their reach it is both our responsibility as journalists and readers to stop fake news from getting into the spotlight. We’ve now entered the “Post-truth Era” so we must make sure that at least we’re using tools such as storytelling for showcasing real journalism.

María Andrea Márquez