Social media movements and their inconsistent momentums.
Social media’s business model is designed to titillate users by amplifying the opinions of cretins which ultimately leads to positive social movements becoming exhausted. This has forced dogmatic intellectuals to manifest as the resistance body and counterpoint as an attempt to readdress balance on the equilibrium. Unfortunately, this resulted in an entire generation battling with anxieties(1), and the other half alienated and adopting anti-intellectualism as a religion to blindly follow. The most dangerous of these being climate denial or even mere despondence, which if left unchecked will be our demise(2).
These despondent delinquents have opted instead to find refuse in spheres once relegated to the dark edifices of the internet, that have now become so vast they’ve spewed onto the information highway and into our public sphere. These computational safe houses have been a harbour for fake news and conspiracy theories, which modern-day demagogues have exploited the world over; Trump, Duterte, and Bolsonaro being some of the major culprits(3–7). One may argue that Trump is now set to lose to Biden, and Bolivia’s recent elections have shown the world that participatory democracy can triumph over autocrats(8), or that Chile’s approval to rewrite the wrongs of Pinochet's constitution is a sign of a new progressive social contract to come(9). Yet, there is no room in our hearts and minds for complacency, if the elephant in the room is left to roam during Sunday lunch, sit on Grandma, and shit all over the floor; world politics will only continue to violently oscillate between a liberal left’s perception of itself as ‘the sensible middle ground’ and the far right. Or in fact, any populist who can exploit ignorance with symbolic violence. As of yet, nobody has the answer to the question of how to solve this issue. The consensus leans towards a multi-stakeholder relationship with stricter regulatory mechanisms and frameworks being implemented on these platforms, yet this may not be able to combat the spread of cognitive biases, and the jury is still out on how to implement these proposed systems, and what they would even look like.
The one positive aspect of social media is that it’s a dual function tool that serves as a lifeline for victims of Human Rights abuses and Human Rights defenders alike(10). However, it’s becoming ever more glocalised(11) with human rights organizations representing the backbone for outside pacemakers where they can utilize social media’s tools like posting and location tagging as informational subsidies(12). Yet, these techniques and strategies alone cannot stop various movements born out of social media, ultimately running out of steam. Take extinction rebellion, this global movement did manage to bring sways of people to the streets to peacefully advocate for environmental rights, but then imploded in London when the movement laid its own trap by protesting outside NewsUK’s printing presses(13). Conservative media outlets latched their talons onto it and claimed that the movement was abusing their right to freedom of expression, whilst conveniently sidestepped the inconvenience of having to explain how the freedom of the press has allowed Mr. Murdoch’s papers to perpetually vomit out articles which constantly clash with the vast scientific consensus on climate change(14). This is an example of how the cross-pollination of media between legacy and social can create feedback loops of self-destruction, where campaigners end up back at square one, having to justify that of which was becoming accepted.
There are also cases of informational cascades(15,16). One was Bolsonaro’s election in Brazil which coincided with the Amazon fires six months later, during the summer of 2019. Social media lit up with the same amount of heat with environmental, animal, and indigenous rights at the forefront of the summer zeitgeist, which prompted legacy media to follow suit. However, when the next top stories came along, the movement’s locomotive, like extinction rebellion’s, ran out of steam. The Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland and one of the most biodiverse areas of our planet, also located in Brazil, is still on fire along with the Amazon(17). Yet, nobody seems to care. I’m even sure if you were to ask an average educated person in the street in the UK about the situation, their response would be ‘Pantawhat’!?
The Black Lives Matter movement has also fallen prey to the informational overload under the weight of the Covid-19 Pandemic and the presidential elections. Ever since 2014 BLM has done incredible work at the level of a grassroots movement(18). It’s helped bring justice to African Americans across the US who have been stolen before their years, usually by trigger happy index fingers of security forces with dire systemic racism problems. However, in 2020 George Floyd like Eric Gardener, was not killed by that tool America champions as a birthright to own with a limited use of practical application. No, Floyd like Gardener was murdered far more calculated and violent fashion where the police literally squeezed the life out of him, and again like Gardener, we saw the incident unfold before our eyes because of smartphones and social media(19). This ignited the 2020 Black Lives matter protests unfolded across the world which gathered steam through social media, and have arguably allowed Nigerians to courageously demonstrate across the country in the hope of abolishing or reforming SARS (The National Robbery Squad) their equivalent to a violent police unit(20). However, what is seldom mentioned is that the Black Lives Matter demonstrations came with an informational cascade across social media which pushed some rational middle-class white individuals to incorrectly focus on small minorities of the protests who became violent. This only served to enlighten other white people about how little they really understand the struggles of growing up in environments where the colour of your skin means you have to try twice as hard or do not get the same doors open to you. If you, like myself, are white and claim to understand how this feels you are in fact incorrect, you can only attempt to sympathize with the cause.
This is hard to achieve with less-educated white individuals understandably feel lost to those ideals. It only further acerbates, when despondent delinquents and anti-intellectuals who may believe the Earth to be flat because they misinterpreted the Truman Show as a documentary, or that an article posted to Quanoniscorrect.com discussing how elite politicians run a pedophile ring in the basement of a Pizza Hut as true(21); one can begin to understand how these Human Rights issues require education and media literacy in order to be seriously sustained across social media. This is how countries like the United States can end up with armed Militias ‘protesting’ and repurposing narratives of liberty, freedom, and their human rights being marginalized by a virus, and a movement of which they were never raised to understand or even in some cases respect(22). This has yet again sparked a backlash that has given birth to African American Militias countering them as a show of strength. Thus, perpetuating a phenomenon that allows for an already overstretch legacy media ecosystem to easily frame a story around how both sides are at fault, appear unbiassed to the issue, and proudly accept the stance of taking the moral high ground, which most of us are aware isn’t the case.
So, where does one stand on how to sum up this short opinion blog post on the future of social media, and its relation to movements concerning human rights and politics? Well, It’s probably clear I am not very optimistic, as it appears to me the majority of the platforms are in fact not populated with conspiracy theorists or full-time Human Rights activists. At least in my echo-chamber and social media bubble, it appears to be the part-time activist, the slacktivist, or the fringe conspiracist, the people who in my opinion could be susceptible to not quite believing in David Ike’s famous theorem of the lizard people running society(23), but more a mixture of an elite class taking their orders from some sort of Illuminati, for some unbeknown reason to the rest of us wollybrains. From what I interpret, outside my network of relations on various platforms, all I see are a majority of three types of individual, the Narcissist, the Masochistic, and the communicative spectator who falls into neither camp. They solely use the tool to speak with friends, for which it was created, right? Well, today it’s difficult to be sure if that was in fact the case.
So, as an ode to Thompson’s fear and loathing, where the American dream becomes a nightmare acid trip, I amalgamate that same analogy to social media’s promise of a tool that sustains one’s liberty, which paradoxically appears to fade more and more each day. I seek to remind the reader that: Where I am based in London, if one gazed in the direction of southeast nine years ago they would have seen a wave break, releasing rights and freedoms to hundreds of thousands of individuals across the Arab world. This water fed a spring that cultivated ambitions, purpose, and most importantly a promise of the equitable future within such a digital environment. However, looking southeasterly today towards that recent yet so distant mecca, one can only see the water undulate, and roll back over the horizon.
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