This is a remarkable outbreak of righteousness here. A whole book of it in fact. The idea being that the American media censored the beliefs of a large portion of the electorate and that this was good. It is only possible to hold this belief if you are insistent that the media itself was the possessor of the one and only truth. Those of us who have actually met a journalist or two would not hold to that.
But that is the insistence here:
Antisocial: How Online Extremists Broke America by Andrew Marantz – review
A US journalist infiltrates the toxic world of alt-right ‘news’ peddlers in an absorbing study of online propaganda and its threat to democracy
D’ye see how this propaganda is working? Democracy is good, Yeah! So, if the people are actually allowed to express their own views then that’s bad, right? Oh, wait, no, we can’t actually say that, can we? So, therefore, we hold up our set of beliefs as being democracy, then the people who don’t agree with us are anti-democratic. Yeah!
He was right, and this book tells that tale. To research it, Marantz frequented some of the nastiest circles of the American “alt-right”, got to know some of the home-grown virtuosos of disinformation and disruption, embedded himself in a startup that specialises in exploiting online “virality”, and reflected on the recent history of social media and its monetisation and amplification of hate, white supremacism and disinformation. His conclusions are not reassuring for anyone who regards a functioning public sphere and accountable media power as prerequisites for democracy.
The point being made here is that if those hicks in Flyover Country are allowed to, in that public sphere, just say what they think then our vision of the good world will be refuted. Or challenged. Or Hillary might not get elected. Something we don’t like anyway. So, that expression of the unvarnished views of the citizenry must be repressed:
Early in the book, Marantz observes that “Trump seemed to draw on pools of dark energy not previously observed within the universe of the American electorate”.
Peeps talkin’ their own way, thinking their own thoughts, speakin’ their own words. That led to Trump. So, what else do we need to know that repression and censorship are good? Nuttin’!
There has always been a dark undercurrent of white supremacism in some sectors of American culture. It was kept from public view for decades by the editorial gatekeepers of the old media ecosystem.
The media was and is stuffed with liberal arts graduates who all hold the correct sorta views. They censored – and they should have done, should do now because Trump! – the views of the people. Because, you know, Orange Man Bad.
Trump’s candidacy and campaign had the effect of “mainstreaming” that which had previously been largely hidden from view.
Tsk, we can’t allow that to happen now, can we?
One of the most depressing things about 2016 was the apparent inability of American journalism to deal with this pollution of the public sphere. In part, this was because they were crippled by their professional standards. It’s not always possible to be even-handed and honest. “The plain fact,” writes Marantz at one point, “was that the alt-right was a racist movement full of creeps and liars. If a newspaper’s house style didn’t allow its reporters to say so, then the house style was preventing its reporters from telling the truth.”
The people disagree with liberal arts majors. Ho hum. But if they do they shouldn’t be allowed to say it.
At the end of this absorbing and disturbing book, we are left with two awkward questions. One is whether digital technology – as controlled and deployed by a small number of unregulated tech corporations that derive their profits from monetising “user engagement” (a polite term for prioritising dis- and misinformation, lies, outrage and nonsense) – now constitutes an existential threat to liberal democracy. And if the answer to that is yes, are we going to do anything about it before it’s too late? Second, was the old media ecosystem, with its elitist gatekeepers, editorial control, political bias and other flaws, really worse than what we have acquired?
And there we have it. Democracy isn’t, in this view, what the peeps say, desire, want or vote for. It’s the world as envisioned by the liberal arts graduates in the media.
Or, as a rather better journalist than exists today put it, people can’t be allowed to think for themselves because that could lead – will lead – to wrongthink.
This elitism all comes, as you knew it would, from someone at the New Yorker. The essential message of the screed being that we mustn’t take note of what the proles think because they thing wrongly. We elite must impose our views upon them, not allow any irruption of actual democracy.
It’s still authoritarianism even if it’s by the noodle armed and pin dicked, isn’t it?