Sunday 16 November 2014

The Revolution will not be Facebooked?

There was a time, perhaps only a generation or so ago, when “the news” was something that was just there, like “the weather”. News bulletins, to borrow George Orwell’s definition of good prose, were “like a window pane”, through which you peered to see what was going on in the world; if you did not like what you saw, it was no fault of the glass.
Then came the accusation, fuelled by the influential and left-wing Glasgow Media Group in the 1970s, that such an approach was a dangerous illusion; that “the news” was a construct, not reality; that impartiality was impossible and any attempt to achieve it futile. Balance began to look quaint.
Now we have a third notion, created by the explosion in digital devices. More than a third of the British population uses Facebook every day, and “news” is what people find on the internet and send to others, rather than gobbets of information served up by journalists. Or at least it is for millions of people under 40, many of whom do not trust mainstream news outlets.
As for the two jolts to the authority of "the news", I have to say that I suspect the Glasgow Media Group's left-wing deconstruction of the news probably had a very limited impact on the general public's view of the news. Its impact will probably have been exclusively confined to sections of academia and the media, plus a few fringe activist groups.

The "third notion", however, is a very different matter. The internet has most definitely fuelled distrust in the mainstream media whether by giving voice to previously unvoiced dissatisfaction or generating dissatisfaction where there had previously been none (by spreading doubt, opening people's eyes, however you want to see it). 

It is undoubtedly a revolution from below, and we bloggers led the way of course. YouTube and more recently Twitter and Facebook then joined in.

Users of the latter social media, however, may not be on the same wavelength as us bloggers. According to Paul Donovan, studies of Twitter and Facebook [used by a new BBC 5Live programme] suggest that most of the people who use them for finding news aren't interested in the kind of things that interest us - politics, the EU, terrorism, books, crime, religion, foreign affairs, etc. What interests them instead is films, football, TV, sexy famous people, pop music, etc.

Are things really that stark though? Are the younger generation(s), the Twitter and Facebook generation(s), really only interested in gossip, trivia, pop culture, and YouTube videos of cute kittens? 

I'm doubtful about that. Though many young people don't care that much about traditional politics, it's unwise to assume they aren't political. Some will care. They could be using those kinds of social media to find out the news about those sorts of 'unimportant' things and then using other forms of media (including mainstream media) to find out about 'the big stuff', the 'proper news'. 

Surveys that examine only their use of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc, could be missing an important part of their news-hunting. Maybe such people don't look for news about Islamic terrorism or the EU rebate on Facebook on Twitter but look instead at the BBC News website or the Guardian or Daily Mail websites or at blogs or at Google News. Maybe they comments about such things there, and comment about X-Factor elsewhere. 

Still, those seeking to counter what they see as the disinformation and propaganda of the mainstream media are using Twitter and Facebook to spread their cause far and wide - even if that often involves a link to a website or a blog. 

In that spirit, it's always interesting to come across Facebook pages like Anti-Israel Bias in the Media (BBC, Guardian, etc.), taking the fight into the newer, fastest-growing corners of the internet - though (and I know I can speak for Sue here) we won't be joining them!

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