Did decentralizing top-down media control bring us any closer to the truth-topia we were hoping for?
The church was the first news magnate, says tech entrepreneur Oliver Luckett. It was a top-down centralized network where just few people could access the word of God, and would disseminate that information to the masses. Centuries later another top-down network emerged: print and later television media boomed and set the agenda, relaying information with authority from just a handful of networks. Today’s communication system has a different architecture: it’s holonic, says Luckett, or horizontally disseminated – everyone with a signal and a device can produce, contribute, dispute and report news. So in which system are we better off? Are we any closer to the truth now than we were then? Luckett contends that human emotion has become the editor-in-chief of today’s news, and that to steer us away from misinformation, fake news, and opinion masquerading as fact, it will require a concerted effort in social responsibility – something that we may not be capable of en masse. Oliver Luckett and Michael J. Casey's book is The Social Organism: A Radical Understanding of Social Media to Transform Your Business and Life.
Oliver Luckett and Michael J. Casey's book is The Social Organism: A Radical Understanding of Social Media to Transform Your Business and Life.
“We love, as a culture, to attack messengers when the message is something that makes us feel uncomfortable,” says journalist Wesley Lowery.
It’s no coincidence, says Wesley Lowery, that freedom of the press was one of the first things that the U.S. founders enshrined in the Constitution. It was people of that time’s ability to report on and openly discuss their situation that sparked the revolution. It became clear then that a free press is the ultimate safeguard for democracy.
So what happens when that press is undermined? The 2016 election was unprecedented in its bending of the truth. The emphasis on fact-checking during the debates, the clear Twitter evidence and past-interview quotes that were exhibited but still denied, and the disregard for accountability of past actions came into direct conflict with what is known to be the truth. The media was delegitimized in a very public way – there are big ramifications to that, says Lowery. He fears we are entering a post-truth age, where fact is no longer objective – one where elected officials can point-blank say their bill will do something it definitely won't, or deny something they are on record saying. The media becomes the villain in the wake of this, accused of bias – a big enough distraction for some to let the official shimmy away without repercussion.
Lowery has first-hand experience in the villainizing of the media – he was one of three journalists arrested in 2014 while covering the Ferguson protests. What the Black Lives Matter movement brings to light for him, besides the core message, is that here is a case of the media being held accountable for the actions of others. "We love, as a society, as a culture, to attack messengers when the message is something that makes us feel uncomfortable," says Lowery. "So reporters who reported on things like police shootings and race and justice became the targets because if only you could discredit them, if you could prove they had some vendetta or some bias that they were really just some liberal operative then you didn’t have to engage at all with what they were saying."
When the public stops believing that reported journalism is the truth, learns to cry "bias" as a knee-jerk reaction to bad news, and is jockeyed into a habit of mistrust and 'blaming the messenger' by elected officials, it guillotines journalism as a democratic protector.