If something is on the internet, it must be true, right?
The moment some anonymous poster on Twitter, with a profile picture of an influential leader – like, say, Vladimir Putin – makes some outlandish claim, it must immediately be accepted as gospel truth, no matter what the historical record or any other evidence says.
It is then the responsibility of every pseudo-intellectual and wannabe politician to share this truth and rile up their followers to target whomever the original post exposed as falling short of their stringent moral and political standards, with the vilest and most toxic abuse possible. Bonus points if you can somehow drag in the target’s children.
If the original poster happens to be a well-known influencer or social personality with a high following, it becomes almost compulsory for everyone, including the media, to share their pearls of wisdom.
Every news website worth its salt must run the unsubstantiated claims and slander as is, along with embedded responses to the tweets and Facebook posts.
Questioning the dominant narrative will have you branded as a “defender of WMC”, “cabalist” or member of whichever illuminati-affiliated sect is the target of the week’s outrage.
That’s just how it works now. Fall in line!
Rules are rules …
Operating in this new social-media driven media space is incredibly difficult for those who still value some semblance of integrity and actual journalism.
It means that instead of using resources to investigate and research important social issues, news editors must assign journalists to fill up valuable editorial space with refutations of the most idiotic conspiracies possible, or responses to arguments so facile a 10-year-old should be able to see through them.
When war is declared, they say truth is the first casualty and, nowadays, along with it apparently, common sense.
The vast troves of human knowledge instantly accessible through our cellphones has somehow made humanity stupider than ever before.
Instead of trusting reputable sources of information and those who are experts in their field, we choose to place our faith in those who have mastered the art of selling themselves and promote ignorance as a virtue.
The media is being forced to join the worshipping at the cult of personality.
Inevitably, it will all come tumbling down.
Ironically, by buying into this culture of ignorance, dumbing down the quality of reporting and taking sides in political squabbles in order to appeal to an increasingly vapid market, outlets are hurting their own credibility and that of the media as a whole. This, in turn, leads to less trust in the media and a turn towards alternative sources of information.
In order to keep up with these alternative sources, the media simply dumbs down further, in a vicious, self-defeating circle.
I won’t pretend to have a solution to the problems facing the media because, unlike social media’s self-proclaimed gurus, I don’t know it all.
What I do know, though, is that our credibility and integrity as journalists is all we have and that should never be bartered for likes or shares.