IT'S ME AGAIN - SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE CORRUPTION OF DISCOURSE

Drafted months ago. I think I'm going to start writing again.

 

 

 

What happened? On the evening news fifty years ago, like clockwork, millions of folks would watch Walter Cronkite describe daring flights in space while raptly watching grainy video that we would only see once. No VCRs. No YouTube. Perhaps more importantly than his space exploration commentary, Walter's grainy video described the moral complexities of the war in Vietnam. Whether or not we considered either or both of those endeavors noble, we trusted Walter's presentation. He showed us pictures and commented on them truthfully, so we believed. There were other guys sitting in the chairs in the other two networks. They seemed like nice guys. But Walter was the standard, at least in our house.

There were the three national networks with just one or two independent stations serious enough to consider in the major media markets back in those days. More locally produced radio and more local, often daily newspapers. Every major city accommodated at least two and sometimes more daily papers, with some even publishing morning and afternoon editions. (Their demise is a constant regret.) Either way, even in a major metropolitan area of several million people, an avid consumer of publicly available, current news and information had limited choices. A smart consumer could detect slants in the reporting. But even having seen those biases, folks generally believed that the words that they were hearing bore some relation to reality and truth, as tenuous as that relationship might be. 

 Fast forward...

Search "The Earth is Flat" on YouTube. See what happens. Whether agreeing or debunking, video after video after video has garnered millions of views. Millions. On a topic that is settled science and observed reality. Settled, damn it. How can it not be?

The roundness of Earth is not a settled matter in some circles for two reasons. First, social media provides an opportunity for those who believe otherwise to communicate with each other, join together, and recruit others to their delusion. Why they insist on their belief that Earth is flat is irrelevant. They have a megaphone and they use it. 

More importantly, there's money in clicks.

Capitalism has created a world full of consumers. Folks just love to buy stuff, often more stuff than they can afford. They are enticed through advertising. Manipulative, button-pushing advertising. And one principle of advertising is that the more often a consumer is exposed to an ad, especially if that exposure is accomplished across multiple platforms, the more likely the consumer is to recognize, desire, and buy the product. And so, advertisers have embraced omnipresent and oft-visited social media. And so, given that advertisers are willing and eager to throw money at content creators who attract eyes to their ads, content creators are happy to become platforms for advertising, The more eyes on the ads, the more money the content creator makes.

Does the content matter? Not at all. Followers matter. Clicks matter.

I have cancelled my Twitter account. I haven't posted on Pinterest or LinkedIn in years. I post occasionally on Instagram, mostly pictures of my walks for exercize in rural France. I know that it's a cliche, but I like cat videos on Facebook. I have several email accounts because it's convenient to keep things properly separated. And that's about it. No Reddit. No TikTok. And when I just looked up the top fifty social media sites in the world, I couldn't believe how many I had never heard of, much less never considered joining.

I will probably not live to see the practical results of this social experiment, this post-truth, capitalized clicks, living life virtually society. That is, although things move fast in the digital world, time in the real world continues apace. Just think of me as an old man, telling Google to get off my lawn.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Ira, So glad that you’re back at it old man😉
    Spot on as usual.
    From an Old Geezer

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words. I’ll try to keep on going.

      Delete

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