Making facts fun and nonpartisan
It likely will come as no surprise that in the last decade, trust in journalists and members of the press has declined greatly. In wanting to seek understanding about people’s feelings toward the press, I’ve taken to my personal social media over the last six months or so. I asked my friends, relatives, and old acquaintances a few questions regarding political polarization, including what their greatest source of frustration is regarding the press. To my fascination, there was one answer I received that struck similarly across the political spectrum: They felt the news was biased, and for that reason, they didn’t know who to trust.
That exact sentiment was that reason Sharon McMahon, Duluth resident and recent Instagram megastar, began posting fact checks regarding government on her Instagram account @sharonsaysso. The former government teacher had seen a friend post something on social media that was factually inaccurate, and McMahon wanted to correct that falsehood — but in a Minnesota nice way (and not in the passive aggressive style, either) .
McMahon has always been interested in politics since she was a child, she said. She attended the University of Minnesota–Duluth where she was the president of the political science association, and has been a high school government teacher in St. Paul, the Bay Area, and finally a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. After being laid off, her family returned to Duluth where she began a business as a photographer — which has primarily been the focus of her Instagram account … until last fall when she saw those factual inaccuracies.
As she saw misinformation spread, she decided to take to her own Instagram account to spread facts in kindness and, most importantly, in a nonpartisan fashion. And because of that, her account has become so popular she now boasts over half a million followers on the platform and has made several appearances on nationally televised shows.
Her account has become a safe-haven for thousands of people across the country who want to know if what they hear from politicians, pundits, or their uncle is fact or fiction. And they want to know why those things may or may not be true. She gets hundreds of questions from her followers — dubbed “Governerds” — each day, often asking her to explain parts of government/politics and using the acronym LIFT (like I’m 5, thanks). McMahon answers dozens of them each day in a simple straightforward fashion — no gimmicks, no slant. I’ve learned new facts about government, and have found having her account handy is helpful as I navigate my own consumption of news. Her Instagram account is what the people have been craving: someone who will tell them the facts with no spin.
And while that fact-based nonpartisan approach has been what’s brought most people to her account, it’s also her personality that resonates with people. Do you remember when you were in school, being so excited for a particular class because of a favorite teacher and how you loved how they connected with you? The ones who laugh at their own self-deprecating jokes, bring in treats to share and go that metaphorical extra mile to connect with their students? McMahon is that teacher, just online. From references to an odd-looking stuffed chicken she received as a gift from her mother-in-law, to sharing her love of whales and bald eagle cams, and even her excitement over sharing some strange facts about Lake Superior or Minnesota while breaking out her thick Minnesotan accent, it’s apparent that she’s become America’s favorite government teacher. She makes learning fun, and for something as complex as government, it makes the learning experience that much more enjoyable.
If Instagram isn’t for you, McMahon is also making a presence in several other areas of teaching. She’ll be releasing a podcast, “Government for Grownups,” in May, is working on a book, and — most accessible right now to the public — has immersed herself once again in her first love: teaching government, this time through her Government for Grownups workshops. Each month she tackles a subject regarding the government or politics, and, well, explains how it works in a virtual lecture, after which McMahon will spend multiple hours answering questions from her attendees. For the month of March, she tackled how the judicial process works.
In addition, she also has done a similar workshop-style “deep dive” in which she tackled the hot topic of abortion — again, without a slant, without the purpose of trying to change views, but with the purpose of educating people about the issue from the perspective of how it fits into the government.
Any workshop or deep-dive replay is available on her website at sharonmcmahon.com.
And what’s amazing is that those workshops are extremely reasonably priced, and, on top of that, while they do have a suggested price, are also based on donation. If one cannot afford the suggested $10 for a workshop, you can pay just half that amount. If one can afford more than the suggested donation of $10 per workshop, one is able to pay more to help subsidize those who cannot afford the workshop. (Most replays, however, are currently $12.99 at a firm price.)
My hope, as a journalist, isn’t that you think like me or that you vote like me. My hope, as a journalist, is that you have all the necessary information to come to a well-informed opinion. McMahon does just that.