Internet Killed the Radio Star10 Nov 2016
So, Brexit and now Trump. For a brief couple of weeks I thought the sexual assault charges would be enough to swing the polls. Obviously not. The exit data makes for interesting reading…
I could probably write all day about how this latest result concerns me, but there’s one thing in common between Brexit and the US election that really needs sorting, and that’s the media.
Growing up in the UK I’m maybe a little more inured to the fact that newspapers and TV are little more than propaganda arms for their owners and/or some political entity. My first exposure to this was through the rave/free party scene, and my own place within it as a white-gloved, whistle owning, card-carrying partier. The nights I went to - full of smiling, warm and friendly strangers, chewing their way through MDMA highs - were nothing like the drug-addled dropouts terrorising the front pages of the Sun. The uproar that people - free citizens - should be allowed to terrorise upper middle-class countryside for a weekend of love and dancing was an eye-opener. As was the Criminal Justice Act and constantly getting stopped and searched for wearing a “Nice And Safe Attitude” jacket, or “World Dance” record bag.
Since then I’ve never bought a paper, never believed any news source other than the Beeb, and made an effort to fact-check what I do start buying into. That makes me weird, I know. Talking to some friends who voted Brexit, it turns out only one did any sort of fact-checking of his own, but came to a different conclusion to me. That’s a pretty piss-poor effort for such a decision. I’ve ended up knowing more about the UK and Euro constitutions and legal frameworks than I ever wanted to. (But there’s an argument against referendums…)
I didn’t see much of the Brexit coverage, living in Finland, but I did watch quite a bit of Question Time, Newsnight, and had my ear to Radio 4. What was immediately obvious from what I did see and hear is that the Beeb, as debate moderator, played a piss poor role. It’s not balance to put a domain expert next to someone who knows next to nothing. It’s also not balance to allow for “post fact” political statements to go unchallenged by the chair. No one would give a flat-earther the same airtime as Buzz Aldrin in a debate about space, because, dur, the earth is demonstrably, measurably, not fucking flat. Sure, they can be part of the debate, but they have an opinion, and it should be categorised as such. Not to do so is a case of false equivalance. 350million painted on a bus was levels of bullshit even a child could Google. As was every statement Farage ever muttered.
In many ways the US election took this much further, Trump acted as a demagogue and the media let this go unchecked for far too long. The Brexit Bunch merely tested the water.
The internet has killed writing, and with it journalism. Regardless of the political leanings of newspapers, in most countries there was a legal and moral obligation to fact-check and research investigative reporting that is now wholly missing from the majority of discourse. Facebook, Twitter et al are echo chambers.
I’m actually incredibly guilty of this. A few elections ago I removed all but a few Tory voters from my Facebook feed, cos honestly, fuck them. I regularly block anyone that posts Catholic or Christian religious content. I purge who I follow on Twitter quite regularly for any minor infraction. Most of the drive to do this is because I’m all too aware of how depressing the world is, so when I’m idly scrolling through my feeds I just want to see cats, or crudely drawn nob jokes. I don’t want to feel angry about what someone’s said, or get dragged into drawn out debates while I’m on the train. But there’s a flip-side to this coin that was clear as day yesterday: there wasn’t a single Trump supporter in any of my feeds.
Obviously I’m happy about that, but it goes to show how much I’ve pruned anything I perceive as intellectual dissent from some of the bubbles I frequent. I’d wager most people are the same, which given the climate could lead to dangerous confirmation bias. What I have to be conscious of is that, by being lazy, I’m also unlikely to ever have an opposing viewpoint eruditely put to me. On certain subjects, that’s fine, climate change, LGBT / human rights etc aren’t exactly topics for debate, but that’s not true of everything. There’s plenty of nuance in the world.
Twitter does a better job in one sense, tweets are often shared and fact-checks attached, but that’s not true of a Google search or Facebook. In a “post factual” political climate, it behoves us as a species to ensure what sources of realtime news we do have access to operate under some sort of journalistic framework of integrity. That probably means regulating the UK news papers. It probably also means Silicon Valley pulling its head out of its arse.
Unfortunately I don’t see that happening. People are lazy. I am lazy. And nothing ever changes, unless it’s to be deregulated or sold off to the highest bidder. I’m am considering supporting the Grauniad online, given it’s only 50quid a year, and I think this may end up becoming the norm. Journalism will end up surviving under a patronage, rather than as a commercial endeavour.