We all live in tech-infused echochambers and it’s becoming democracy’s kryptonite, at our global peril
note: this post is cross-published on Storify, where I’m curating a number of links and twitter conversations on the echochamber topic.
2016 will probably be remembered as the year that so-called new media and its atomization effect truly came of age. The twin events, which none of the self-appointed punditocracy saw coming, Brexit and the election of Trump, have solid roots in the digital destruction and disruption of the Old Media Order. Both tectonic political earthquakes caught millions of citizens by surprise, who woke up realizing they had been living in comfortable echochambers of like-minded folk. The collision of dueling echochambers is accelerating and this past weekend’s sparring between major media and the new Trump administration on true facts and alternative facts is only the beginning. We are witnessing the advent of democracies functioning with narrow bases of the electorate, replacing majorities with active digital minorities. This is troubling on several levels and the echochambers brought to us by addictive technologies could become liberal democracies’ kryptonite.
The advent of our digital world was accelerated by Tim Berners-Lee’s WWW in the early 1990s and quickly embraced by print media. Print media had been testing several digital delivery systems prior to the web (teletext in Europe, minitel in France etc). 25 years later we’re living with a digital level playing field where everyone and anyone can publish text and livestream audio/video has perhaps fatally upended authority media outlets with a global outlook. Two decades of media disruption that saw Craigslist, free digital content and digital cents replace analog dollars have gutted major media monopolies the world over. Their mergers and outright sales to telcos, cable broadcasters and the occasional Medici-like figure (think Bezos buying the Washington Post Co) have somewhat clouded reality, but it’s now quite clear now that the media business is shaken to its core. Big Media has chased hyperfast technological innovation since the days of teletext, and most media execs are too quickly enamored with scale&distribution. Media companies have not figured out how to properly profit from the flat digital universe and are quick to dismiss the relevance&value of their original content. Recent counterexamples #Netflix and #AmazonVideo who bravely pivoted to creating valuable original content in lieu of remaining 100% distribution-centric are too rare.
Major media “brands” were quick to hop on the social media bandwagon and are now faced with dismal results, as highlighted by Bloomberg News: “Newspapers and other media outlets are struggling to make money from their partnerships with tech giants like Facebook and Snapchat, raising concerns over their business models in a news landscape increasingly dominated by social media platforms. Some publishers are scaling back on Facebook Inc.’s Instant Articles program, in which they host stories directly on the social-media company’s platform instead of their own websites so they load faster on phones, according to a report by Digital Content Next, a trade group.”
I’ve experienced the echochamber and the filter bubble first hand and it’s led me to re-assess my digital footprint and habits. A further bit of context: I’m an avowed media and political junkie, trained as a journalist and now working as a media analyst/consultant. I’ve been an avid social media user for close to a decade but this past year grew uneasy and very frustrated by the bubble effect. Full disclosure: I’m a dual French/Canadian citizen who grew up in the US and lived in the NYC area for a total of 15 years, hence my keen interest in the US electoral process. I’ve been quite vocal on Facebook with my political leanings and would describe myself in a US context as a Liberal Republican (a defunct strand). I wasn’t a fan of Hillary Clinton and made that clear. Unlike most of my Facebook “friends” I maintained an open dialogue with vocal members of both “camps”. This led to some tough conversations and I saw how comfortable the echochamber was for many of my friends.
I mostly retreated from social media since last fall and have been consuming media directly ie browsing major media sites as well as relying on print. This post was sparked by tweets by Rafat Ali who’s as keen a media observer as ever.
Click below to go through a Storify-powered curation of twitter conversations and articles on the topic. Enjoy !