Stephen Elliott-Buckley​ | CUPE Research

No matter the challenge, community is the answer. That’s why unions and other organizations are rediscovering established techniques of building community – like fostering the skills to improve face-to-face communication, even in the age of digital technology and social media.

Most of us remember a time when we learned about our world largely through the one-way filter of mass media, when interaction was limited to letters to the editor or AM radio call-in shows.

We’ve seen a lot of change in the past ten years or so, including the rise of social media giants such as Facebook and the widespread use of websites and blogs. And true enough, we seem to have more influence and capacity to share information with each other.

But we can also see at least three negative sides to an over-reliance on social media:

  1. People increasingly self-select what kind of information they receive. They are now finding themselves trapped in echo chambers, with social media feeds that are mostly populated by ideas from like-minded people. It’s getting harder to hear or read different points of view.
  2. Mainstream media has, broadly speaking, always reflected the values and interests of dominant sectors of our society. But today, we seem to be stuck in a world of fake news and alternative facts as people share information that is increasingly not fact-checked. Truth is becoming more elusive. Opinions masquerade as reality. People appear less capable of critical thinking.
  3. Compounding the first two problems, people are feeling more alienated from each other. People embraced social media as a way of keeping in touch with friends and families, and maybe for some activism. But lately, people are backing away from social media because it is becoming an inadequate replacement for authentic human connection.

How do we combat this social media alienation?

We connect with each other – face-to-face. We rely less on paid advertising in the mass media to reach our members and the public. We spend more face-to-face time with our members and develop more authentic relationships – and we don’t rely on a Facebook post, a tweet, an ad or a robocall.

Building face-to-face capacity is an ongoing process. We can’t do it just in the weeks before a round of bargaining or a strike vote. To have a powerful effect in our workplaces we need to constantly deepen relationships with our members. We need to understand our members, so that we can have their backs. And when they see that we do, we will be able to count on their support for our collective bargaining goals.