“These are the best of times, these are the worst of times.”
The above lines best describe the changing nature of media and news.
From a simplistic world where there were 8-10 news outlets that regulated everything, where there was a clear distinction of Alpha male in news (the news generators) and the Beta male in news (the news consumers), we have come to the social media world of everybody being an Alpha male. These news outlets had credibility and more importantly accountability. They came from different ideologies and philosophies, which meant they will broadcast different POV’s to help a user become informed. There would be random cases of them manipulating (because of money or pressure or power), but such cases would be far and few in between.
The glut of news channels and blogs and micro-blogs, the reducing cost of being able to create such channels and the years of planning done by some people has made the world extremely vulnerable.
The Arab Spring taught one thing to the world – power of the people. But it also taught one thing to the smart ones – power to manipulate people. And that’s precisely what we see these days.
While we all live in the glory of freedom of expression and power to all, the truth is it is doing more harm than good. The assumption since the beginning of time has been that the normal average human is an idiot who will eat and drink anything and can’t distinguish between truth and false (also called as rumor or alternate facts or misquotes) is still as true as it was in medieval times.
The fact that Qatar fiasco could have been caused by some Russian hackers, the fact that someone could take some pictures from an Afghanistan scuffle and show it as religious lynching in India, the fact that anyone can manipulate larger public opinion by planning some false stories is just outright dangerous. The fact that this planner has zero accountability and traceability makes it more venomous than the best nuclear weapons available.
We need to formulate some control mechanism for it. The smart ones owe it to the world to help restore some order. I am not talking about curbing ‘freedom of expression’ but there is definitely a balance to be created.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton was right when he said ‘Pen is mightier than the sword’, little could he comprehend the power of new media.