Social media activism: lots of noise for no real substance

Filipinos need to apply a healthy dose of skepticism when regarding what their Media present to them. They rail against politicians yet eat up the bullshit dished out on oligarch-owned Philippine television, radio, and print. As if traditional media weren’t enough, we now have an army of hollowheads fielding 140 character out-of-context and substance-starved one-liners on Twitter and spreading ill-thought-out drivel on Facebook.

Trouble with social media “activists” is that they think that scanning news snippets for ‘trending’ words and publishing an “opinion” about these spread thin over multiple ‘tweets’ each of which likely does not go beyond five words (including the quoted catchphrase of the day) constitutes a contribution to the collective intellect. Perhaps, to be fair, these would-be opinion shapers are not being dictated upon or manipulated by elite feudal lords in the same way traditional media is, and that they represent the unmediated “crowdsourced” voice of the “collective”.

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The problem I have with this “wisdom of crowds” bullshit is that stampedes can also be counted as an outcome of this supposed crowd “wisdom”. Like the “movements” and collective “thinking” that emerge from unmediated social media chatter, stampedes are also emergent properties of isolated thinking among individual steer in a herd. Considering the feeble mind of the average steer, the awesome power of a full-on stampede spurred by the collective outcome of these individual feeble minds cannot be disputed. Same thing with Philippine street revolutions. A bunch of morons waving yellow ribbons and flashing “L” hand gestures are individually no match for a marine armed with an assault rifle. But they managed to overthrow sitting presidents twice in recent Philippine history. The remarkable thing is that the power and illusory wisdom of emergent behaviour is generated by what essentially are comparatively unintelligent goals and immaterial physical effects of each individual in the collective.

In short, while the outcomes of mass movements can indeed be powerful, the question remains:

Are they ultimately meaningful outcomes underpinned by intelligent purpose?

Come down to the perspective around how our social media “activists” and “practitioners” apply these same principles of emergent behaviour to arrive at their spurious conclusions and the movements they kick of on the basis of these and we wonder whether social media really is the credible alternative to traditional edited media that it is pitched to be.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to getting to a meaningful and intelligent take on something that matters, despite a proliferation of all these new insta-publishing platforms that implant in everyone a notion that their opinions are so priceless. Building meaning and insight still takes a lot of work and thinking. The few minutes or even seconds it takes to go from one vacuous “tweet” to the next does not build that sort of intellectual capital. Without a deep or broad coherence applied to a “stream” of tweets, these remain nothing more than a collection of meaningless dots floating around in the digital ether.

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