“As man’s voice reaches now with ease—by radio, by cable, by television—across continents and oceans, the importance of what he says becomes paramount.”
Preface by Jess Stein, Editor in Chief, RHD: 1967
Half a century after Random House Dictionary Editor in Chief, Jess Stein, penned such thoughts in a preface, ‘man’s voice’ would travel at a velocity few imagined. By January 2017, social media platform Twitter would broadcast our voices around the globe at an average rate of 500 million times per day¹.
Suddenly, people were able to share their voice with the world and the world was listening. There were experts (pundits) in every field who argued and raved in favor of the efficiencies and connectivities of the social media platform.
With a few clicks of a button, your voice could get out, your thoughts could spread, your life could change. Journalists from war-torn nations could report easier and faster with greater effect, activists could mobilize (e.g. Parkland teens), and minorities could find support.
With Facebook, families could communicate, connect, and share instantly with each other. Relationships bloomed and blossomed, fell apart, or were sustained all at the hands of these convenient programmatic tools. Businesses thrived and died. Start-ups formed. Money flowed.
It was all so magical as social media gave its users power, cohesion, and influence. At least, that’s how it seemed.
In October of 2017, Twitter’s VP of Revenue, Matt Derella, told CNBC News in an interview that their company’s strategy was to align with TV and that Twitter was “really an extension of what they [TV corporations] are doing”². The interview article ends with a note that Twitter “plans to expand its data and enterprise solutions divisions”², which translated into plain speak, meant that it planned to sell, share, and in-every-way monetize the data that it collects from its users.
But the consequences of Twitter did not end with improper data practices. With an average monthly user base of 326 million³, Twitter became an effective weapon for the corporate-state’s information warfare arsenal. A tough-to-digest mouthful given its benign logo and marketing. To lend credibility to this claim, read this. In fact, an MIT study earlier this year revealed that “falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information”⁴. This suggests, on social media, the lie is mightier than the truth.
An alarming revelation, made more so by the phenomenon that, today, most adults get their news from social media, many from the user’s own social media platform—71% of Twitter users recieve their news from Twitter and 67% of Facebook users receive their news from Facebook⁵. Perhaps even more alarming is the PEW Research Center’s finding that “a [sic] majority (57%) say they expect the news they see on social media to be largely inaccurate… getting news this way has made little difference in their understanding of current events”⁵. This suggests at least three things:
People aren’t aware of what they do and don’t understand
The majority of voters’ understanding of news is affected by social media
The majority of voters are aware of the effect with no change to their behavior
1. People aren’t aware of what they do and don’t understand
This suggests that people think they know what is or is not a true or false news story. A prerequisite for claiming that you are not affected by inaccurate or false news (fake news). A dubious claim in the dawn of deep fakes and a marketplace (social media) for cognitive biases.
2. The majority of voters’ understanding of news is affected by social media
There were 128,838,342 voters who cast a vote in the 2016 American election of its current President⁶. In comparison, 43% of social media users admit to their expectation of accurate news on social media. That means 90,897,700 Americans are knowingly influenced by social media. That’s 70.55% of the voting American public whose beliefs are controlled by social media—given that not all of the users who are aware of the bias vote and that of the remaining 57% (the other side), some vote and aren’t aware they are influenced.
3. The majority of voters are aware of the effect with no change to their behavior
This is the most frightening realization from the PEW study. It reflects an inherent indifference native to human behavior that may be a social result of a biological response to conservation law, or simply a preference for convenience over consequence. How can a society change itself if the people who compose it don’t care to?
As the world gravitated toward social media, it accelerated its lending of itself to the accommodation of intolerant beliefs, leaders of those beliefs, and their terrifyingly-insane rhetoric, like that of Brazil’s newly elected President. Social media created an environment for the public to swing from one extreme end to the next, with no aptitude for equilibrium. This meant, the slow degradation of accountability for language of ourselves and our leaders. It meant, accepting a Twitter tweet or Facebook post as news and authority whilst abdicating a Twitter tweet or Facebook post as ineffectually colloquial.
It meant the creation of a business, space, market, platform, forum, and public square where the rule for veracity was placed on a dynamic and sliding scale.
And as the adherence to truth slipped and yawned from one end to the other, so too the accountability for one’s speech. A ‘speech’ which signified multitudes, as Jess Stein observed, “In man’s language is to be found the true mirror of man himself”⁷. Thus, as social media allows us to relinquish truth and accountability of our language, we surrender the integrity and responsibility of our businesses, systems, and societies.
For social media’s true gain is the total forfeiture of ourselves.
In an unfinished story, David Foster Wallace purportedly likened the internet to “the bathroom wall of the American psyche”⁸. A marvelous creative connection that, among other things, pays homage to the rare-but-seen scrawls of genius, hope, and inspiration as well as the overwhelming majority of silliness and mental illness (narcissism, depression, racism and hate) that frequents the world’s stalls.
Perhaps it is more appropriate that we focus on the internet’s global nature, Silicon Valley’s coup, identify the facilitators of human banality, social media, and update the late genius’ quote: social media is the bathroom stall of the world’s psyche.
It should never have been public. It should never have become the forum for news and discourse. But companies held the stall door open and the world pushed inside.
Will the public demand uncorrupted enforcement and regulation of the giant technology companies? Will the public hold them accountable for worshiping greed over humanity? Will the public assert its power over these companies which are run by individuals (executives), groups of individuals (boards), and societies of individuals (employees)?
Will people hold themselves accountable?
Now that would be magic.
¹ Wolfram Alpha. Average Number of Tweets Per Day. January 2017.
² Derella, Matt. Here’s how Twitter plans to become profitable for the first time. Interview, Michelle Castillo, CNBC: October 26, 2017.
³ Number of monthly active Twitter users. Statista, 2018.
⁴ Vosoughi, Soroush, et al. The spread of true and false news online. Science, March 2018.
⁵ Matsa, Katerina Eva, Shearer, Elisa. New Use Across Social Media Platforms 2018. Pew Research Center, September 2018.
⁶ United States presidential election, 2016. Wikipedia, 2018.
⁷ Stein, Jess. Editor in Chief: Preface. Random House Dictionary, 1967.
⁸ Max, D. T. In the D.F.W. Archives: An Unfinished Story About The Internet. The New Yorker, October 11, 2012.