Open up your preferred publication. As it is likely, you only keep that as “preferred” for your identity-building, as it’s highly unlikely that you read, watches or listen more than 50% of your content diet from there. But, anyway, take a look at the headlines you have. Unless you are reading a tiny clique of old-school newspapers like The Economist, you are almost certainly get caught in the same swamp of the “I-Think” niche. There, bulldozing the rotting corpse of what used to be journalism, lies the most American of the trends, raging like never before – the cult of personality. It is the source of all evils. If you caught yourself looking for excuses, you’d better find one. You are at the epicentre of the irrationality storm unlocked by social media.
Every day, an uncertain number of texts content hit the browser. “Uncertain”, because the estimates could not be less precise. A marketing site states 2 million, while WordPress alone pushes 77 million. Should we count social media? Messages? It’s an impossible guess. But that’s a lot.
The average Internet user is bombarded along the day with an absurd amount of opinion and very little fact-telling. This is how this post started: an enticing headline that led the audience to just another ego massage. The article had 979 words, with 20 “I” occurrences, one per 48 words on average. The author desire to throw his own opinions on the stage overcame almost every other need. The world is not as important as what I feel about it. An egotistical trait like no other.
One might say that traditional journalism resisted, that it still keeps the facts above the conversation, but that’s a sordid lie. Very few organizations publish less opinion than chronicle because opinion drives likes and tweets, keeps the brand blinking, make digital revenues less anaemic and, of course, feeds the attention addiction of less attentive journalists. Even bastions of journalism like The Wall Street Journal or Financial Times have many times more op-eds than they had, say, 20 years ago.
The “I-Think” journalism is seductive as a heroin dose in the vein. It brings immediate applause, valuable antagonism (because if you react to “their” criticism, your followers applaud you twice for the bravery) and a sense of self-importance that numb the connection with reality. The false perception of being on a crusade for principles justifies some casualties.
Curiously, The I-each-48-words article was about how “social media became a battleground” Social media became a battleground precisely because of so many other opinionated articles that make facts scarce, drying out the connection the debate should have with truth. Donald Trump is a master of such thing, and he masters the US media with his Twitter alone. People like the self-worshipping author of the I-48 article feel they are in control, they’re always right, and they are making the debate from the right side. But they are not. Riding this horse is like throwing petrol into the fire.
The “I” mindset is a not thing of the current generation. The cult of personality is not a new framework. Still, the batch of kids bred in the digital realm don’t have the slightest idea of how not to measure things following relationship between their identity views and everything else. It’s an obsession with their self-image and constant observation of the reality from their POV. It makes them, in a sense, unable to realise the real consequences of how their actions. They are not guiltless, but they have the mitigating circumstance of the lack of awareness.
In this sense, technology, something without moral qualities by definition, is being used in the most harmful way possible. The digital immediacy of tools that create deadline zero between push-and-publish actions leaves no time for context, reflection and distancing. The fight starts immediately after your tweet went online. Notifications bring you back to the hatred pool even if you realise you made a mistake. The ubiquity of the environment killed the debate, because if everybody talks, none listens.
There, at this exact place where the deafening feel of a billion voices crushes what is real or not, is where the infection we call “fake news” are born. People may not be listening in general, but when they hear something confirming their fears and secretive nasty beliefs, they become 100% deaf for all but that cuddling lie served on a customized, Facebook-boosted, silver plate.
In the end, the headline of the post that gave birth to this reflection deserves praise. Social media is making us anti-social. However, it carries no guilt. We do. And here, I excuse myself for doing the “I-Think” word as well…