In light of what happened in Washington yesterday with Trump supporters, domestic terrorists, right wing insurgents (really what they are referred to depends on which news you consume) breaching/attacking/rioting (again, depends on news source) the Capitol building with the aim of stopping the certification of the election. There has been much hand-wringing over social media.

Trump has used social media (off of the back of his stints on traditional media with his television shows) for years to build his flock of followers and bypass news media to get "the gospel according to Trump" out there. Weirdly, those same media orgs who are complaining about Twitter, also breathlessly reported every single bloody tweet Trump did, whole forests were felled with newsprint dissecting what Trump “might have been thinking”. Why? Why did mainstream media do this? Why did they amplify the tweets to their massive audiences?

It is only recently that some media organisations finally decided enough was enough and started calling out Trump’s lies, realising just how dangerous they were. Something that might have been a hell of a lot more useful prior to him even being elected, but anyhow, guess better late than never.

Problem is, damage is already done.

I have often had the argument with both journalists, and other punters online, that just reporting what so-and-so said is not good enough. There should always be context, there should always be fact checking. At the core of any reporting, there should always be the audience's understanding of the ramifications. To not do so, is actively misinforming the public.

Nowadays anyone if they bother can watch a press conference, read a media release on a government website or… look at said politician/celebrity/sportsperson etc., own social media posts.

What the punter can’t always do, and is the domain of the professional wordsmiths, is understand the context or truth of those statements. They may not have the institutional knowledge, education or frankly, just time to look further than the actual words to know they are being lied to or led down a dark path.

Many terms are used for what politicians in particular do, “dog whistling”, “pork-barrelling” or “obfuscation” are my favourites. A lot of average punters don’t actually understand what the real meaning is behind these terms, and therefore they are considered rather benign and just gloss over them. In the context of Australia, if the audience had it blatantly pointed out to them these were in fact polite phrases from those not wanting to face defamation suits and meant:

“dog whistling” – hiding behind weasel words to actually encourage punters to be selfish twats, racist or bigots. AKA you are being conned and really should be looking for what is behind this distraction.

“pork-barrelling” – Using taxpayer/government funds to bribe particular electorates to vote for them. AKA using your own money you have paid in taxes to look like good blokes (face it, usually men) and score those votes, worse, when held up as “only if you vote for me will you get that sweet new pool or road upgrade you really want”. When in fact, governments are supposed to build/improve services/facilities that are needed, it is literally their job, you should not be thanking them or feeling you owe them for doing their job. Pork barrelling is at its worst when communities receive sweet rewards they didn’t need but a pollie needs your vote, so who cares about wasting government funds when those private schools need new wellness centres? Funny how when an actual instance of massive pork-barrelling is explained it actually looks more like coercion or corruption and misappropriation of government funds for personal gain huh?

“obfuscation” – This is the pollies favourite. Pretty much is using weasel words to answer a question or supposedly explain something but the manner it is done means you end up being more confused, the answer more obscured or… you just hear blah blah blah and lose interest. This is done on purpose so as not to blatantly get caught out in a lie when being asked a question. Again, this is where defamation laws in Australia harm citizens being informed as to be frank, quite a few of our politicians do more than just obfuscate, they outright lie, but you will never know it was a lie.

I have belaboured the above as 'Media allowing the above to happen to a degree is what led Trump to be elected in the first place' and for so many citizens of the US, to be sucked into his vortex of delusion, which culminated in many calling themselves patriots and storming the Capitol building yesterday.

The sad thing is, many of these people honestly believe they are being patriots, their President had an election stolen from them and they were defending US democracy. Add white supremacy to the mix and you had what ended up as an anti-democratic attempted coup on American democracy. They became what they thought was the enemy, all based on an avalanche of lies.

There are all sorts of reasons why people get sucked into believing lies and disappear down QAnon rabbit holes, conspiracy theory movements, climate denial and other dangerous paths - and I am not qualified to even discuss how that happens - but it does. We have seen it here in Australia, where Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party supporters will believe anything she utters, regardless of how ridiculous the statement is and of course in the US with Trump believers.

The woman who died in the Capitol building yesterday is a prime example of this. She was only 35, so not someone who felt life has passed her by and was confused by a modern world, she was an Air Force Veteran, so educated and patriotic, should have been the first person to defending the US Constitution, not trying to stop the certification of electoral votes and impede the process of handing over to a duly elected government? Yet this woman did. She believed everything her President had been yelling, she believed she was defending her nation from a “stolen” election and instead of being remembered for the “patriot” she probably was, she will go down in history as a “domestic terrorist” or “insurrectionist”.

Many, particularly in media will pearl clutch about the dangers of social media and how this could not have happened without it and it should be regulated. To a degree they are right. Social media does need better regulation but they are just the amplifier, same of traditional media, just in a more modern format with every “letter to the editor” actually published now.

These conspiracy theories don’t suddenly appear by themselves. The lies and misinformation that is spread doesn’t just magically pop into one punters brain for them to spread around. Nearly all of them start from a Politician, celebrity, sportsperson, big business person, columnists etc., that the traditional media gave a platform to in the first place. A Pete Evans or Donald Trump didn’t suddenly appear on Social Media and get a massive following. They were already well promoted by ‘traditional’ media before they ever used social media to extend their audience.

Same with a lot of what is spread on social media, it is not just random youtube videos or blog links that are shared, but mainstream media articles, politicians and journalists/columnists quotes that are often used as the basis for many of these misinformation campaigns. Journalists can whine about ‘public lacking media education’ as much as they like but sadly, too many still subscribe to the idea that “if it is in the paper it must be true”. They can’t distinguish between a columnist that has been published – normally just for clickbait or sensationalism – and a well-researched journalistic or academic piece. To be fair, they really shouldn’t have to.

I will agree, that social media has been terrible at stopping abuse, not doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation and outright lies that circulate on the internet and would be stoked if they learn their lessons after yesterday’s coup attempt and go further than just punting old mate Donny for a day or so but actually endeavour to have better procedures to clean up their act, but this is also true of traditional media.

Social Media is just the gun. It is traditional media and the Politicians/Celebrities etc., they have already elevated on their own platforms and how they report and have reported on their words/actions in the past and currently that is the ammunition fired from that gun. Social media could not cause the damage it does without those bullets.

Every single time traditional media report a politicians statement, verbatim, without any context or fact checking that is a bullet to be fired from the Social Media rifle. Trump’s lies are an extreme example of this but we have seen it often here in Australia too with our Prime Minister, the “retiree tax” was a really good example of lie that actually helped the Liberal Party win the election. It was all over social media, taken down by likes of Facebook too late, but it was every single press gallery journalist who referred to it, without the context of it being incorrect or over-reach, repeated in the nightly news, included in their online reporting, that was the basis for the spread of it on social media. It could not have gained traction without it. It was a political strategy media fell for hook line and sinker which took off like weeds on social media.

You can’t look at the failings of social media, without looking at the failings of our traditional media.

The excuse of, “I am just reporting what the Prime Minister said” or “is up to the public to decide” is not good enough. The public are not wordsmiths, they don’t fully understand connotation but will be sucked in on a subconscious level, they also often don’t have time, energy, education or inclination to “do their own homework” and to be frank, they should not have to. The literal job of the journalist is to ‘inform the public’ and for the political journalist, it is to ‘hold truth to power’.

If the public are being sucked in by lies and misinformation, particularly by politicians, then journalists are failing at their core job. They are failing to communicate and inform the public.

I get how particularly here in Australia it is difficult to call out blatant lies by politicians or celebrities as we have seriously shitty defamation laws that favour those with the biggest pockets but surely professional wordsmiths can still find a way to communicate to the public that they are being lied to or misled by a politician or celebrity?

If the US public had been truly informed as to just how much of a bullshit artist Trump was, instead of being good clickbait with his outrageous statements, this truly terrible human being might never even have gained the Republican presidential nomination and what happened yesterday in Washington could have stayed just the germ of an idea for some dystopian novel.

Yesterday in Australia alone we had Sky News referring to these trying to overthrow the Capital building as “Trump fans” and defend them as vanilla ‘protestors’, we even had likes of a so-called journalist at the Daily Telegraph try to imply that BLM protests were to blame and of course, a heap of right wing conservative media – I really wish we could find another name as these people are not ‘Conservatives’ as we would traditionally consider that term to mean, they are extremists – start with the whole “it was actually ANTIFA masquerading as…” line. I shit you not.

How far do you think all those messages, which originated in traditional, mainstream media spread on facebook and twitter?

I will state again, it is Traditional media who provide the ammo for the Social Media gun.

Only when those traditional media outlets are regulated, when truth in media is actually enacted can you worry about social media being regulated more heavily.

More legitimate media entities need to stop reporting lies and misinformation from politicians and celebrities with no context as to those lies. They need to stop laughing off the likes of Sky News ‘after dark’ as it is no longer just a few Bolts & Jones after dark, it is all bloody day. They are either acting as the media & communications arm of the Liberal National party or flogging ridiculous conspiracy theories that the QAnon types latch onto and are dangerous!

Politics is not just a game as some would like to think with ‘political’ winners and losers – looking at you Insiders – it has real life ramifications for the public. Time it was taken seriously, time the public was put at the forefront of media minds and then there will be less pearl clutching about dangerous social media as there will be less dangerous crap there in the first place to spread as those who benefit from it won’t even get to those high positions of authority to wilfully misinform people further.

Yesterday in Washington we had a stark example of what happens when lies are allowed to go unchallenged and conspiracy theories are not taken seriously. It could have been a hell of a lot worse and in fact, may still get worse.

There is a lesson here for Australia. We never learned our lesson from the Cronulla riots, hell, our media barely paid attention to the findings from New Zealand in regard to our own home-grown terrorist – and they should have, they really should have – and we sure as hell are slowly following down the same path of our big cousin in the US with leaders lying to us on a daily basis and QAnon rubbish gaining more followers as I type.

What is more dangerous, the gun or the ammunition?

A gun can hurt you if clubbed over the head maybe, but can really only kill you if loaded with bullets.

And… when loaded with bullets, a gun wielded by the unethical. power hungry and irresponsible is beyond dangerous.

Think about it. Please


This came up after I did this post, but... I rest my case:

PS. I went down that QAnon / Patriot rabbit hole. It is scary and growing, even here in Australia. Don’t laugh it off as ‘nutters’, it is just as dangerous as any other extremist group, worse in fact as no Bin Laden type figure-head to hold responsible. They are a weird hodge-podge of conspiracy theories, who seem to add more as time goes on and are beyond dangerous, they are no laughing matter and there are many who may not be fully flung QAnon extremists but are happy to sit on the fringe of this movement as all conspiracy theories are welcome. Don’t walk past and shrug off, we will rue too many doing this in future.

Noely Neate
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Noely Neate
Talks too much on Twitter
Professional desk jockey
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