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Media changes needed to save democracy – Prince George Citizen

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It is not news to say that our consumption of media has changed dramatically in the 21stcentury. Perhaps it is time to take a step back and look objectively at the impact of these changes and begin thinking about how our media can be improved.

For most of the 20thcentury, a few large players controlled the media and they had tremendous influence on public opinion. This was not always a good thing. It could be hard to get information on important issues unless the powers that be deemed they were worthy of coverage.  

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With the dawn of the internet, I could read the Manchester Guardian as easily as my own local newspaper. It seemed that finally there was true freedom of information.

The problem became the fact that there was too much information, some of which was credible and much of that was not.

Then came the rise of tech giants who would sell online exposure to the highest bidder. Whereas once media was tempered by slander and libel laws, as well as a certain level of journalistic integrity, media was now controlled by corporations which did not have these restraints.  

At the same time, we saw cuts to funding for state-sponsored media in democratic countries resulting in less accountability to voters and greater influence from corporate sponsors.

The impact of these changes has not been good for democracy. We have seen local newspapers cut their staffs and even close their doors.  This resulted in a lack of information about our own communities and city governments, leading to a loss of a sense of commonality and social cohesion.

In essence, our new reliance on tech giants to supply us with information has resulted in fake news, clickbait, and polarized societies.  There are even ongoing investigations for the International Court of Justice regarding the accountability of social media corporations in the Rohingya Genocide.  

None of this should be surprising. The goal of corporate tech giants is to maximize short-term profitability for the sake of their investors. It is not to make the world a better, more just and more equitable place.   Those are the expressed ideals of democratic governments.

In the 20thcentury, in response to inadequacies in privatized media democracies around the world began investing in state-sponsored corporations like the BBC, CBC and Deutsche Welle, organizations that were accountable to voters, not to shareholders.

What was the impact of this investment? According to research, countries with well-funded public broadcasters have higher levels of social trust and cohesion and are less susceptible to extremism. We tend to be better informed and are more likely to express our differences in respectful dialogue.  

It should also be noted that there is a significant difference between state-controlled media and state-sponsored media. Everyone in Zaire, for example, knew that Tele-Zaire was a mouthpiece for the Mobutu dictatorship, not an institution that encouraged informed and meaningful dialogue.

What then do we need to do to prevent the polarization we have seen in countries like Myanmar and the United States? We need to invest in our democracy by investing in our media. The austerity measures since the 1980s have not served us well and we can not do what we did before the age of the internet. Because the way we access media has completely changed, we also need to allow more tax dollars to flow into local media.

We are in uncharted territory and the solutions will not be easy to find.  We are not alone, however. Every country in the world is facing similar challenges.  

Respectful and informed discussion is the heart of democracy and they are also the principles that will help us find the solutions we need to improve our media and protect our democracy. 

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Banff World Media Festival Moves Online Again – Deadline

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The Banff World Media Festival is set to be held virtually again this year. The Canadian event will run June 14 to July 16 via an online platform due to Covid-19, organizers said Tuesday.

It is the second year in a row that the event is being held virtually due to the global pandemic. Last year’s event was due to be held at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta before moving online with panels featuring the likes of the cast and crew of Snowpiercer.

The festival has invested in building a new virtual industry and event hub that will allow participants to meet, screen, pitch and socialize. This will include a new Marketplace Week as well as the Rockie Awards International Program Competition and keynote sessions and industry panels.

“Great content and successful business ventures are fueled by meaningful personal connections. Banff has always been about bringing people together, and this year’s festival will do that on a grand virtual scale,” said Jenn Kuzmyk, Executive Director, Banff World Media Festival. “We believe our industry must recognize and act on its role in the movements for social, political, and environmental progress. This year’s Festival content will continue to drive conversation and action, highlighting the power that the entertainment industry has to change minds, change policy, and create opportunities for those who have historically been underrepresented.”

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GUEST OPINION: Is social media complicit in the mob attack on the American capital? – The Guardian

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Kent Bruyneel
Guest opinion


My friend Dave said to me recently that whatever anyone thought of social media, we human beings at this point in our evolution were not ready for these tools. Hard to argue, even for someone who makes part of his living teaching that very tool. Using social media as our primary source for both news and truth, we have arrived at a chaotic time in public discourse like people swept up in a mob who don’t quite know what we are doing. Or, why we are doing it. Or, what will become of all that private and personal information shared and shouted. We only know, as mob members, that everyone else is doing it; parts of it seem like entertainment; and we had better do it lest we miss out on something – that most modern of motivations.

I tell students and clients that one of the tenets of modern communications, especially social media, is that if you do not define your online voice, someone else will do it for you. Sure, they probably will anyway (see: Yelp). But, I remind them, you have to enter the arena to at least hear what is being said. I encourage its use broadly and pervasively, so even though I am not an active social media poster, I am connected to the ridiculous and deadly spectacle that happened in the American capital this past week in myriad ways. In a sense all of those in the social network are: the lurkers and the over-sharers. Not culpable, or guilty or anything, but not quite innocent either: we are responsible for how widely, vigorously and seriously we read. And, of course, we are responsible for what signs we hold over our head; and what weapons we bear in our arms. But the basic underlying algorithm that controls the news we unprepared-humans now are fed has made social media so dangerous that its standard bearer is being linked in legitimate publications to the machine that will destroy mankind.

Put simply, an algorithm is a specific set of instructions to solve a problem. Broadly speaking, social media algorithms find out what you like and then feed you more of it. This process is always been part of the internet experience: more cute than deep (endless cat videos), more seedy than dangerous (endless pornography), more annoying than threatening (endless spam). What has fundamentally changed is that now, mostly through Twitter and Facebook, we are fed not just larks or stimuli, we are fed news and truth.

Different truth, and different news according to what we already believe. News and truth, actually, that have specifically designed and delivered for us. News and truth that have been curated to please us and turn off our critical faculties. The Atlantic recently published an article called “Facebook is a Doomsday Device” that is both chilling and worth the read. This is what Dave meant. We are not prepared for these tools.

The eleventh hour banning of President Trump’s Twitter account and the Big Tech move that comes against Parler, Twitter’s conservative wannabee doppelganger, is too late in the process, poorly and cynically timed; but also necessary. Though it may seem futile, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg must chase down the horses that have so violently erupted from their barns. Even if they do, they will almost certainly face more regulatory and legislative oversight going forward from all nations. Good.

In the United States, the protections social media companies have been granted under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act will be further scrutinized. The best way to quickly explain Section 230 is that it allows social media companies to be platforms, not publishers: a publisher is responsible for the veracity of whatever it publishes, a platform is not responsible for whomever stands on it and shouts. It appears that the companies themselves have now realized that line can no longer be so easily delineated in the still nascent empires of influence.

Though it is possible to understand the banning of the MAGA crowd as the violation of the rules of a platform, it can be just as easily read as the editorial decisions of a publisher. The president’s quixotic and ill-informed attack on Section 230 notwithstanding, I expect the investigation, regulation and scrutiny to only grow on the companies that control the information age; and the most prominent web companies do too based on their recent actions. Good.

We know now and have always known that disinformation has consequences. It seems unavoidable to conclude that absent the ability of social media companies to curate and choose news and truth for people based on scraped personal information and preferences; and those companies’ concurrent ability to group those people together with relative ease, these acts of mob terrorism would have been far harder to organize. This is not to excuse or explain away the brutality and violence, this is to understand how it all got together in one place. Understanding the later, does not lessen the contempt, disgust or scorn for the former.

I also acknowledge that Facebook can help facilitate many wonderful things too and connect people in a certain way. But, at the moment, that feels akin to people fighting the opioid epidemic by acknowledging that heroin makes you high … Sure, it does that too. That’s how this all got started.

I come bearing no solutions other than this: Read more. I would doubt anyone who said they know exactly what social media will look like, or how it will impact us, in10 years, or even five. I’ll just close by paraphrasing George Orwell, who was prescient about the danger of a degraded public discourse: Those who do not read well cannot think well, and those who do not think well will have their thinking done for them.

Kent Bruyneel teaches modern business communications and social media and applied digital communications at the University of Prince Edward Island and is the editor-in-chief of Forget Magazine. With his wife, Dr. Shannon Bruyneel, he runs a strategic consulting firm, The Eastsizing Company, that focuses on socially actionable research.

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GUEST OPINION: Is social media complicit in the mob attack on the American capital? – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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Kent Bruyneel
Guest opinion


My friend Dave said to me recently that whatever anyone thought of social media, we human beings at this point in our evolution were not ready for these tools. Hard to argue, even for someone who makes part of his living teaching that very tool. Using social media as our primary source for both news and truth, we have arrived at a chaotic time in public discourse like people swept up in a mob who don’t quite know what we are doing. Or, why we are doing it. Or, what will become of all that private and personal information shared and shouted. We only know, as mob members, that everyone else is doing it; parts of it seem like entertainment; and we had better do it lest we miss out on something – that most modern of motivations.

I tell students and clients that one of the tenets of modern communications, especially social media, is that if you do not define your online voice, someone else will do it for you. Sure, they probably will anyway (see: Yelp). But, I remind them, you have to enter the arena to at least hear what is being said. I encourage its use broadly and pervasively, so even though I am not an active social media poster, I am connected to the ridiculous and deadly spectacle that happened in the American capital this past week in myriad ways. In a sense all of those in the social network are: the lurkers and the over-sharers. Not culpable, or guilty or anything, but not quite innocent either: we are responsible for how widely, vigorously and seriously we read. And, of course, we are responsible for what signs we hold over our head; and what weapons we bear in our arms. But the basic underlying algorithm that controls the news we unprepared-humans now are fed has made social media so dangerous that its standard bearer is being linked in legitimate publications to the machine that will destroy mankind.

Put simply, an algorithm is a specific set of instructions to solve a problem. Broadly speaking, social media algorithms find out what you like and then feed you more of it. This process is always been part of the internet experience: more cute than deep (endless cat videos), more seedy than dangerous (endless pornography), more annoying than threatening (endless spam). What has fundamentally changed is that now, mostly through Twitter and Facebook, we are fed not just larks or stimuli, we are fed news and truth.

Different truth, and different news according to what we already believe. News and truth, actually, that have specifically designed and delivered for us. News and truth that have been curated to please us and turn off our critical faculties. The Atlantic recently published an article called “Facebook is a Doomsday Device” that is both chilling and worth the read. This is what Dave meant. We are not prepared for these tools.

The eleventh hour banning of President Trump’s Twitter account and the Big Tech move that comes against Parler, Twitter’s conservative wannabee doppelganger, is too late in the process, poorly and cynically timed; but also necessary. Though it may seem futile, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg must chase down the horses that have so violently erupted from their barns. Even if they do, they will almost certainly face more regulatory and legislative oversight going forward from all nations. Good.

In the United States, the protections social media companies have been granted under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act will be further scrutinized. The best way to quickly explain Section 230 is that it allows social media companies to be platforms, not publishers: a publisher is responsible for the veracity of whatever it publishes, a platform is not responsible for whomever stands on it and shouts. It appears that the companies themselves have now realized that line can no longer be so easily delineated in the still nascent empires of influence.

Though it is possible to understand the banning of the MAGA crowd as the violation of the rules of a platform, it can be just as easily read as the editorial decisions of a publisher. The president’s quixotic and ill-informed attack on Section 230 notwithstanding, I expect the investigation, regulation and scrutiny to only grow on the companies that control the information age; and the most prominent web companies do too based on their recent actions. Good.

We know now and have always known that disinformation has consequences. It seems unavoidable to conclude that absent the ability of social media companies to curate and choose news and truth for people based on scraped personal information and preferences; and those companies’ concurrent ability to group those people together with relative ease, these acts of mob terrorism would have been far harder to organize. This is not to excuse or explain away the brutality and violence, this is to understand how it all got together in one place. Understanding the later, does not lessen the contempt, disgust or scorn for the former.

I also acknowledge that Facebook can help facilitate many wonderful things too and connect people in a certain way. But, at the moment, that feels akin to people fighting the opioid epidemic by acknowledging that heroin makes you high … Sure, it does that too. That’s how this all got started.

I come bearing no solutions other than this: Read more. I would doubt anyone who said they know exactly what social media will look like, or how it will impact us, in10 years, or even five. I’ll just close by paraphrasing George Orwell, who was prescient about the danger of a degraded public discourse: Those who do not read well cannot think well, and those who do not think well will have their thinking done for them.

Kent Bruyneel teaches modern business communications and social media and applied digital communications at the University of Prince Edward Island and is the editor-in-chief of Forget Magazine. With his wife, Dr. Shannon Bruyneel, he runs a strategic consulting firm, The Eastsizing Company, that focuses on socially actionable research.

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