What happens to information when half your audience can’t understand it?
Every year, the Roosevelt Institute hosts the Four Freedoms Awards to recognize individuals whose work reflects the values urged in FDR’s famous Jan 6, 1941, speech: “freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.” In September, Drake Creative produced the live broadcast of these awards from the FDR Presidential Library.
This aligns with much of the content we produce for the FDR Library, the public-private partner of the Roosevelt Institute – editorial content (as opposed to marketing content) that advances mission (and by extension brand). In this case, the content does even more by addressing the delivery of information itself.
As a communications-driven design firm, we think a lot about the impact of information. Having started our careers producing newspapers on five continents for Euromoney, we’ve seen first hand the impact information can have on democracy and individual freedom. The acceptance speech given by Freedom of Speech and Expression Award winner Tracie Hall, former executive director of the American Library Association (ALA), struck as a vitally important for this time. Here’s an excerpt from our broadcast.
Free Readers Read Freely
Hall’s mantra is, ”Free readers read freely,“ and she has greater awareness than most that we live in a time when book bans happen daily. This year, according to PEN America, nearly 400 bills in the US focused on restricting access to books. Between January and August, 1,915 unique titles were challenged, the highest number on record since the ALA began tracking this data 20 years ago.
These attempts to control how and what people think correspond to a massive increase in the flow of disinformation, particularly through social media, and increasingly from mainstream politicians who use performative tactics to enrage and entrench their base. In the past two years we’ve been flooded with it – endless conspiracies about Russia’s war on Ukraine, the 2020 presidential election, Covid and vaccines – what Steve Bannon refers to as “flooding the zone with shit.” And propagandists like Bannon know they don’t need someone to believe their story. In his book This Is Not Propaganda, Peter Pomerantzev examines how flooding the media sphere with conflicting ideas purposely drives confusion with the intent of producing a cynical disbelief in the truth of anything.
In a profile in The Guardian in November, 2022, Nobel Prize winning journalist Maria Ressa calls our attention the primary commodity of the economy, similar to what labor was in the 19th century. Social media and its perfected algorithms create the opportunity for bad players to manipulate a population that doesn’t have the critical thinking skills to assess the information they consume, and 54 percent of American adults read below a sixth-grade level.
What does this have to do with a communications-driven design firm? The free flow of ideas, freedom of speech and expression, make what we do possible, whether we’re communicating ideas to sell something, or we’re communicating them to save something. It’s our responsibility to do what we can to respect the boundaries of common decency and protect that freedom.