Last Wednesday, almost 350 Better Angels members tuned in to the April BA member meeting, where a well-kept secret was finally revealed. But before the big announcement, a special guest joined us to discuss the state of social media.
David Sable, a former global CEO of Young & Rubicam, a marketing and communications consulting firm, who has been ranked a Top 20 Must-Know Global Influencer by LinkedIn, and as one of the Top 10 Most Generous Marketing Geniuses by Fast Company, addressed the prompt: “What is the problem with social media, and what can be done about it?”
Noting that social media is a massive evolution in communication downstream of the revolution prompted by Gutenberg’s printing press, he spoke about how in the last few years the goal of the various platforms’ users has moved from having as many friends as possible to consuming content derived from an algorithm. People see and share information that “feels right” based on their priors, even if it comes from an unreliable source. By sharing the story, they themselves become the reliable source for other people, who then share it, becoming a reliable source for still others, and so on.
Sable encouraged people to “Think Before You Share” which he has turned into a hashtag. He advised people to consider whether what they are using words or memes that feed a view, or if their words open up a viewpoint. He also described how he unfollows people who share content from unreliable or sketchy sources so as to not reward their posts in any algorithm. David Blankenhorn, President of Braver Angels, expressed admiration for the #thinkbeforeyoushare hashtag, and wondered how we might utilize it.
Then came the announcement: that Better Angels is changing its name to Braver Angels. The name change had been teased for weeks: various correspondence from Better Angels’ leadership promised “a big announcement.” Blankenhorn explained how the change was prompted by a legal challenge from The Better Angels Society, a charitable fundraising organization that supports the work of filmmaker Ken Burns, which argued its trademark was being infringed upon. A judge eventually ruled against Better Angels in December, and our organization declined to appeal. The parties reached an amicable settlement, contingent on Better Angels changing its name.
Palpable emotion coated Blakenhorn’s words as he recalled the initial disappointment he felt at the loss of our organization’s original name, describing himself as a “lifelong student” of the Lincoln speech from which the name was derived. But he quickly pivoted to the sense of hope and excitement the change elicited. As he described it, society had already entered a new period of fractiousness, even before the spread of COVID-19, due to the 2020 election.
More than ever, maintaining respect and decency requires bravery and courage, according to Blankenhorn, as doing so is oftentimes met with criticism from one’s own “side” or “team.” For that reason, he believes the new name accurately reflects the requirements expected of Braver Angels’ members and leadership, while maintaining brand continuity.
Next to speak were Chief Marketing Officer Ciaran O’Connor and National Ambassador John Wood, Jr. O’Connor premiered a slick and stirring new video that will accompany the official rollout of the announcement, featuring Better Angels leadership and staff enthusiastically describing how Braver Angels better encapsulates the spirit of the organization and where it plans to go.
He then gave an account of the steps being taken to empower membership and scale operations: all of Braver Angels’ programming will be made available online, including training, workshops, debates, and discussions. Members were encouraged to help spread the word by contacting local newspapers and writing op-eds. Finally, all the social media channels will be rebranded, and a new website domain premiered: braverangels.org.
Wood further developed the thematic resonance of the change. He opined that, “as vital as empathy is, it’s not enough” and described the need to build upon the shared values that are discovered between citizens when they show each other decency. But that, Wood explained, is impossible to do without first demonstrating courage in the face of intense pressure to treat politics as a team sport and the other side as the enemy. He believes that bravery can act as a rallying cry to motivate citizens to stand firm and act in ways that bring out the best in each other.