Thoughts on a world without news and social media

Once upon a time it was just news. Once upon a time that news was just printed. Before then, well, it was just gossip and ‘Chinese whispers’. News has its place.

But at what cost does news come? At what point do we see that clear divide between The News and the news having passed through the filter of the media outlet’s agenda – more often than not, political?

Social media has provided a more immediate channel for consuming information. Those channels in particular offer such immediacy that it’s possible to simply type any old tosh and have it sprayed around the planet for all to consume. Popular news items can be hijacked and misinformation spread like wildfire. The dawn of mass-consumed fake news.

Be it a political leader, a football team, a celebrity – anyone who courts controversy is fair game for ‘fake news’.

Most of the time such fakery is nothing more than noise. It’s annoying but can be avoided. The trouble there though is that you have to wade through so much noise to find that elusive signal of authenticity. This is the world that we live in – a world of noise. A world where everyone has access to contribute to the global conversation and offer an opinion. It is a world where it matters not what is said but who said it first. He who strikes first gets the lion’s share of ‘likes’ and engagement. Or so the media giants seem to believe. No longer is news that finely tuned and expertly curated slice of information that can be, at least in the main, relied upon because the journalism was of a laudable and high standard. No. In this modern age of noise and news hysteria it seems that news is offered from the mouths of the masses, not those qualified to collect, write, edit and publish such things.

This post is very much a thought process and that process has led me to consider people. Everyone. Or everyone that has access to the internet and is concerned with posting their ‘news’. Who are these people and what makes them tick?

The answer seems to be that those contributing their opinion (masquerading as news) are primarily on social media – that great 21st century technological fuck up that there appears to be no way back from.

Social media is about communication. A good thing. But it is also about vanity. It’s as much about sharing and communication as it is about ‘look at me’, ‘agree with me’, love me’. To this end I’m convinced that social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook could make an enormous statement by removing the ‘like’ buttons – or any form of such meta engagement – and relying entirely on typed feedback.

Imagine that. A social media where you post something and get to read people’s responses. You get to read and digest people’s engagement with your thoughts, your ramblings, your vitriol – whatever it may be. The thing is it would take more effort (and, dare I say it, more intellect) to write a response that was previously reflected purely by an icon (like, love, dislike etc)

This already exists and those posts and topics worth engaging in still encourage people to type their response – their emotions. But from the point of view of the person posting the topic, well, they’re no longer watching notifications pop up on their phone for each like. They’re no longer evaluating their adoration level based on how many people ‘liked’ their post.

I’ve spoken to people about things that have been written by them or their friends on Facebook. I remember one conversation where I was told in some detail the number of ‘likes’ and comments that their post had received. Regardless of the point that was being made (it was in relation to coronavirus – a hot topic for 2020 for those reading this years from now) the only real thing that mattered was the level of meta engagement. So why write it? Why post on Facebook how you feel about something? Why share your view? Why do any of this at all, especially if all you’re going to do is spark conversation with no way of quantifying its effect through ‘likes’?

This is how we’ve become accustomed to using the world wide web. Where once the web was personal websites, forums and a place for knowledge to be freely shared it is now, above all, a dumping ground for opinion. And within this dumping ground we get to flick our thumbs through the content and tap a tiny button to register our approval, disdain or otherwise.

There’s another angle here that is worthy of discussion – clickbait. We’ve all seen them. Those headlines that jump out and grab you by the scruff of your neck and demand that you click to expand the story. How often do we see this in social media? How often do you hover your thumb over the article when there’s no comments assigned to it? And, crucially, how often do you read any comments rather than read the article in an attempt to ascertain the story’s substance? Again, this is part of the modern web culture and for me it is damaging. Not just to the web but to humankind. It’s lazy and we’ve become very, very lazy.

Any platform where opinions can be acquired by reading micro posts, headlines or user comments lends itself to a wealth of misinformation. Tabloid newspapers use this every day with their 128pt headlines that are designed a) to lure you into buying their paper and b) offer you a tried, tested and institutional opinion – that has to be a safe opinion to have, right?

This is ‘bloke down the pub’ territory. You listen to some drunkard warbling on about his views on something for long enough while you drink and before long you’re concurring. Maybe you’ll even pass it off as your own opinion or share it on social media for the world (at least, your world) to consume.

So let’s take it for granted that all news on social media is fake. Actually, that’s a reasonable starting point. Everything you read on Facebook from a media outlet is a lie. It’s a safe enough bet. Why? Because they have a commercial agenda for attempting to engage you. They want to know about you. They want your personal details on their database. They want to manipulate your thought process and influence you. Worse still, they want you to share their drivel so that you, on their behalf, can recruit more people to be hoodwinked into believing their nonsense. If real news is too boring to click well, let’s make it up.

Advertising in the traditional sense is gone. Long gone. What we now have in the digital age is a form of calculated manipulation. There’s a reason you can visit a website selling widgets and 5 minutes later on Facebook see an advert for said widgets. There’s a reason your friend’s holiday photos are sat behind an advert for cruise liners or travel insurance. You’re being manipulated. Your opinion is being affected by the familiarity of a social media platform.

In a world without social media and a world with ‘proper’ news (i.e. relaying of facts without the filter of the media organisation’s agenda) you ought to be able to forge your own opinion armed with the facts. You would most likely engage with friends, family or somebody who you know to have specific knowledge on the subject. What you would hopefully be less inclined to do is assume the knowledge when you have no experience whatsoever. Failing that we’re back to the days of garden fence gossiping. Which, for all its faults, at least had you talking to somebody in real life.

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