Social media foretells end of civil society


IN THE epoch of the media, civilisation has never faced the ills of having so many people across a wide range of disciplines, nationalities, demographics and educational backgrounds subjected to the unrelenting viscera brought down upon the world by social media. But, of course, the most egregious is the king of them all, Facebook, with an active user base of 2.9 billion.

Pew Centre survey shows that 97 per cent of teens use social media for entertainment and to build social networks; however, Mayo Clinic suggests that social medial disrupts sleep and exposes users to bullying, rumour spreading, unrealistic views of other people’s lives, and peer pressure. Moreover, this is not endemic to young people alone; all demographics, from pre-teens to the elderly, can become social media addicts.

So what will happen when the young, who have eschewed buying newspapers or even using online news sites in favour of social media, come of age? Is the trend a harbinger of a digital world where newspapers and bona fide professional journalists become extinct? For example, newspaper moguls like Rupert Murdoch, who uses his Fox News organisation for sensationalising fake news, which has become their mainstay-they may have shot themselves in the foot as his old viewers die off and Fox News becomes passé to new viewers. But long after Murdoch has gone, he will have left behind a dystopian world divided by his hateful rhetorical legacy where news extremism is used to shape the US Supreme Court and the Republican party, forging a political agenda of ill will between people of different political ideologies.

Welcome to a world where Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok will be the go-to source for news; where anyone can be a ‘journalist’; and where writing is seen as a place where you regurgitate your thoughts online and there is little or no accountability for what is said because we live in a society where anything goes-even poorly written posts and equivocation, dishonesty and obscenities are protected by free speech.

How can newspapers and television news-gathering entities spend tens of thousands daily on salaries, travel and other fixtures, yet sell newspapers for a dollar or two and disseminate television news freely over the airwaves? The answer is advertising revenue. Advertisers spend over US$600 billion on advertising globally. However, spending is down considerably on traditional media, and up correspondingly on digital platforms, with Facebook (Meta) and Google being the significant beneficiaries.

This brings us to the local media. These organisations are run by ageing boards of directors who believe in protecting their antiquated notions of what newspapers and television should be. They think they would automatically become part of a utopian digital future by taking their newspapers and television stations online. Nothing could be further from the truth. While Trinidad and Tobago is behind what is happening in First World countries, the local media boards’ belief that closing newspapers across the US and Europe will somehow bypass us is irrational, wrong-headed and naive.

While television will hang on longer, newspapers must make significant changes to stay relevant. I would advise these board members to stop asking the ‘experts’ about what they should do and look to the activities and advice of children and proletariats, for they are the ones who will portend the future of journalism.

Rex Chookolingo