What, if any, are legitimate expectations of honesty and accuracy on what we call social media?
Do the old standards of trust apply? For centuries, humans judged the veracity of what they heard or read based on the trust they placed in the source and the credibility of the message.
Marshall McLuhan’s brilliance fires the synapses every day now, as the distracting red meat of content is carried across the tweetosphere and other junk yards without regard for whether its fresh, prime cut or rancid and toxic. Lest the impression is left that all social media content is considered garbage, it needs saying that any dump of a size will hide some riches.
The truncated nature of tweets provides ample camouflage for all manner of dissembling, from outlandish conspiracy theories and Trumpian alternative facts to unfiltered political spin and overstatement.
Premier Stephen McNeil, or more accurately a ghost writing under his nom de guerre, has become a frequent tweeter of late and why not? It links him directly with, at last count, 15,200 folks, most of whom must be Nova Scotian voters.
His right to political spin is a given, but the official nature of his Tweeter persona – his posts are from the premier and produced by the premier’s office – entitles Nova Scotians to reasonably expect a higher standard of both honesty and accuracy than that placed on, say @totalcrap, with due apologies to Mr. Crap.
“Nova Scotians graduating from post-secondary programs across the province won’t have to repay the provincial portion of their student loan if they’ve graduated in 5 years or less,” the premier tweeted this week, helpfully adding a web address where more information can be found to prove him both incorrect and hyperbolic.
Your grandfather probably told you that if something is too good to be true it likely isn’t. True, that is.
The thread connected to the premier’s post tells the tale. With the plausible excuse of brevity, the post is more misleading than informative, and so drew replies about how long it takes to become a doctor and the like.
Through a combination of political over-spin and simple error, the premier did neither himself nor a pretty good loan forgiveness program any favours.
For starters, students are eligible for loan forgiveness if they complete their first degree in eight or fewer years, not the five the premier stated. Forgiveness is available for loans related to a first degree or diploma, so post-grads and professional school students need not apply.
To qualify for loan forgiveness, students need to have amassed student debt – Canada and Nova Scotia – of $28,560 or more. The province will forgive the Nova Scotian portion of the loan above that threshold.
In the news release announcing this magnanimity back in February, the government noted, incongruously, that “the average bachelor of arts undergraduate degree in Nova Scotia completed in four years (costs) about $27,000.” But, if a student loan fully covers that tuition, the student doesn’t qualify for any loan forgiveness because the $28.560 threshold is not met, nor is it mentioned in the release.
What is highlighted is a fanciful $40,000 available from the province to those few students who manage to check all the boxes and max-out both their bursaries and loan forgiveness.
The loan forgiveness program helps kids with large student debts to dig out from under up to a third of that debt. That’s a good program because the kids who to take on the most debt are generally from less affluent circumstances.
Why isn’t it good enough these days to position a solid program for what it is?
Stephen McNeil’s post should have read something like: “Nova Scotians graduating from NS post-secondary programs with high debt are eligible for significant provincial loan forgiveness.”
But that isn’t even close to what he tweeted. He left the impression that Nova Scotia student loans are now forgivable, in the same way old industrial loans were “forgivable” which meant, forget about it.
We live in a time and place where accuracy, clarity and precision no longer seem to matter in official communications, as illustrated by both the overstated and erroneous tweet and the release, that contextualizes a program with an irrelevant fact.
The loan forgiveness program is $8.5 million well spent to help those who need it most. Attempts to make it more than that devalue the credibility of the source.
Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on provincial and regional powers.