Reputational damage, division and discord are the game these days, and everyone’s a target.  In our current reality, a single allegation or question holds the potential to derail a lifetime’s worth of good work.

It’s disturbing to see or hear damning information about a person you believe in.  You don’t want to be blind to inconvenient truths, but you also don’t want to accept a story that makes you change your beliefs, only to discover later that you were misled. 

Throw into the mix the accessibility of media tools that allow average people to produce and distribute high-quality, authentic-looking content, and it gets even harder to tell what’s true.

Here’s a simple test: Before you embrace any content, define the context.

Let’s say you see a bold headline stating that someone said something inappropriate or troubling.  The first step is to learn in what context the words were said. It’s easy to twist meaning by selectively editing what came before or after the statement in question.

For example: I’m being interviewed, and the reporter asks me how many mouths I have to feed in my home.  I reply, “There’s my wife, my two daughters, and me, and we also have four hungry cats. But since your question is obviously about people, let’s eliminate all the cats.”

When you hear the full answer, my choice of words makes sense. Now imagine that the reporter edits out everything but my last sentence, then posts it with a headline reading, “Man calls for feline genocide; says ‘let’s eliminate all the cats.’”

The same approach applies to photographs.  Next time you see a picture with a caption  claiming to describe it, ask yourself what may have happened just before the photo was taken, or just after, and whether or not the photo may have been cropped.

Context matters.