Sunday, January 27, 2019

Time wasted and energies spent on non-events gone viral

Here's a must-read from the New Yorker on the strange and unsettling ways that social media and mainstream media interact in the modern world to take a thin story involving almost nobody and turn it into a viral phenomenon that actually looks like something big happened.

The example of the moment: the uproar over those Covington Catholic High School students. With one side crying racism and the other side saying the Indigenous guy started it, the world quickly divided according to their viewpoints, and everybody got savaged.

This think piece takes a step back to reveal that in fact, none of the participants came out looking good when you get beyond the massive media firestorm and take a look at the video footage.

Perhaps more importantly, the analysis reveals that the world blew up over an event so small that the reaction is actually the story. Yet that reaction changed nothing, other than to push us all a little farther into our individual perspectives and away from each other.

Where once the mainstream media unfairly dismissed information on social media as so much bumpf, it now gives it too much weight. And in the age of international manipulation by bots and Russians, that is a very bad thing. Worse still, there are real firestorms that require our collective energy - climate change, racism that's significantly deeper than name-calling, increasing inequality, growing poverty. As a species, we are losing our heads over the little stuff while real disaster looms.

Where the heck are we headed? There's still much to love about social media; it's got so much potential to turn all of us into storytellers able to share our individual experiences and perspectives with the world. Alas, it's also a powerful weapon - one that has demonstrated much capability to manipulate our thinking, rile us up over non-news, pit us against each other, and show us a false version of the world that simultaneously overwhelms us with the stories that intensify our biases while keeping us away from the truths that might open our minds.

"We may need to change the way we think," writes Joshua Rothman in the New Yorker article. "Instead of seeing virality as a genuine signifier of newsworthiness, we need to see it for what it is—a product. Covington is the kind of product our social-media platforms sell to us. Perhaps we should be warier consumers."

Yes, indeed. There are those who want us divided and arguing, whether for personal gain or just because it's fun to see us spend all our energies fighting battles that go nowhere. Social media is a dynamic tool in the disruptor's tool box, and I love that about it. But it also lures us into the pointless fights of furious retweeting and name-calling that now passes for "taking action," even while the real battles go unfought. 

1 comment:

e.a.f. said...

The public was consumed by this and it made money. That works for some. While people were taking sides about this, no one was looking at the poverty of First Nations in the U.S.A. or Canada. That most likely worked for a lot of government officials.

Its so much easier to take sides and tweet and twitt and feel like you're doing something. Wonder how many who engaged in verbal war fare on the topic listened To CBC interviewing Pam Palmater this evening about the inequities in our society, specifically the under funding of First Nations needs, i.e. no clean drinkable running water in many First Nations communities. the government won't run water to their homes, because they're condemned. The federal government, may build homes but there is no budget for repairs in the harsh climates they are located in. If we were to take a position on that, we might have to do something, like actually work on a solution.

Social media can really do some good work, but in the end, it works best for governments, politicians who don't want people to focus on the real issues and do something about it.

For all those who engaged in the war of words in the case, did any of them write their politicians regarding First Nations poverty? Did any one make a donation to an organization which works with First Nations to reduce poverty?

If people spent less time on their devices and more time in the real world, things might improve. too often I've seen parents spending more time on their cell phones than talking to their toddlers who are trying to engage their parents.