People have payed undue significance to Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Once reputable news organizations now dedicate much of their content
to topics that “trend” on Twitter. The problem is that this significance disappears as soon as one averts her gaze from the screen and puts the
device in her pocket. For journalists, the significance of social media is vastly overstated if not deliberately misconstrued.
It has been alleged, for instance, that foreign Tweets, status updates, and social media ad campaigns during the 2016 election in America was an
instance of “meddling” in that election, “an influence campaign”,
and to some alarmists
, “the worst attack on America since 9/11”. These are puzzling claims because no
single subset of any social media platform is a country. To complicate the “meddling in the election” trope even more, exactly zero percent of
that election occurred on social media. Considering this, “the worst attack on America since 9/11” was no different than any other day, unless
one conflates the states of affairs on social media with the states of affairs in real life.
In the aforementioned case, it is possible that a forensic investigation could prove which pieces of foreign propaganda were “shared”,
“liked”, “retweeted”, and so on. But no amount of investigating could uncover what level of influence—if any—this “meddling” had on
the user’s final decision. So, when someone says that a series of tweets, ads and facebook posts was “the worst attack on America since 9/11”,
he is not only uttering a string of fatuities, he is using delusion or deceit—not evidence—to come to his conclusions.
It wasn’t too long ago that people were praising social media because they helped facilitate various “revolutions”.
dubbed the election protests in Moldova a
“Twitter Revolution” back in 2009. But this turned out to be
a vast overstatement
, maybe even a hoax, not only because
very few people in Moldova used Twitter at the time, but also because there was no cell or internet service in the square where the protest was
occurring. What’s more, this “twitter revolution” may not have been a revolution at all, but one devised by state actors. Several of the most
violent demonstrators were recognized
as members of
the Moldovan security service.
The Twitter revolution narrative found credence again during the Iranian election protests later that same year. It was deemed so key to the uprisings
there, that some suggested
Twitter should receive the Nobel Peace
Prize for empowering those who protested. The narrative even convinced the US state department
that Twitter delay its own scheduled
maintenance until after the protests.
But again the significance was vastly overstated, and the narratives it promoted differed from the facts on the ground. As it turns out, most of the
Twitter buzz around the protests in Tehran was propagated by westerners tweeting amongst themselves, not Iranians. As Iranian journalist Golnaz
Esfandiari described it, “Western journalists who couldn’t reach — or didn’t bother reaching? — people on the ground in Iran simply scrolled
through the English-language tweets posted with tag #iranelection. Through it all, no one seemed to wonder why people trying to coordinate protests
in Iran would be writing in any language other than Farsi.”.
Why would a company fire someone for a social media post if most people believe political correctness is a problem? Can a small but virulent Twitter
mob, in combination with the journalist’s social media churnalism, make it seem like everyone disapproves?
The twitter fallacy is simple. In each case the activity on social media was conflated and confused with the activity in real life. The narratives
arising from the former only distorted and overshadowed the evidence from the latter.
On Twitter, self-concerned fantasy becomes truth, laziness becomes activism, and journalists make virtue-signalling the guiding principle of their
edit on 18-10-2018 by NiNjABackflip because: (no reason given)