Cats on a Treadmill

Media in the Online Age

Facebook and online media in general often claims that thanks to the World Wide Web we are connecting with each other and making greater communities. However, more and more research is suggesting that in fact the opposite is happening. Companies like Facebook are actually atomising society and encouraging an ‘Echo Chamber’ effect on our fundamental ideas, values and beliefs.

In a recent article on Tech Crunch, Jon Evans argues that

At Facebook’s scale, behavioral targeting doesn’t just reflect our behavior, it actually influences it. Over time, a service which was supposed to connect humanity is actually partitioning us into fractal disconnected bubbles.

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A New Statesman article outlines how the Echo Chamber is linked to the recent decision for Britain to leave the European Union:

Social networks – and echo chambers specifically – might be partly to blame. A study carried out last year, entitled “The spreading of misinformation online”, revealed their concerning effects. According to Michela del Vicario, a co-author of the study, echo chambers are “closed environments, inside of which users are not reached by contrasting information”.

And The Independent even claim that social media Echo Chambers are in part to blame for the rise of Donald Trump’s success in the United States of America:

Instead of trying to reach out and understand why people felt moved to vote for Trump, too many admonished them. We retreated to our echo chambers, where we bellow our opinions at people who are already in agreement and enjoy having them repeated back to us. Our prismatic view of public opinion through tailored social media feeds not only hid from us the confused, angry people we needed to try and reason with, but it gave us a warped view of their motives. And this is where it gets particularly scary: Trump voters are fully aware he is sexist and xenophobic, they just don’t care.

But what is the answer? Should we all leave Facebook and the Internet for good?

Andrew Keen argues that the Internet is a failed experiment. That the promise of the World Wide Web has not been fulfilled. So, perhaps we shouldn’t abandon it completely but if research is telling us that social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are actually bad for our mental health then surely we should no longer use them?

We can argue that the Internet (and by extension your own social media) is like a mirror. If an idiot looks into it then it is an idiot who peers back. If you redesign how you use social media and the Internet then things can change. One of the most difficult things to accomplish is to navigate through the noise of the Internet. To look past the bigotry, the lies, the fake news and even the cats on a treadmill. To look past all that and to seek out only what makes us better is more  difficult than we think and this, I would argue, is because when it really comes to it, deep down, we don’t care.

It appears that Neil Postman was right when he wrote in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.


And so there it is.

As Adam Curtis says, Oh Dear.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

Today is the last official class for A2 Media and whilst I’ll continue to update this blog before your final exam I thought I’d share this video from Steve Jobs.


Life Stinks (and that’s ok)

Mock Exam results are almost upon us! This is a critical time of the academic year and how you respond to your result can have far-reaching consequences. So, I’ve made you a short podcast to listen to all about resilience and coping with failure.

The image is taken from that time a seagull crapped on my leg as I was walking to work.


Adam Curtis’ ‘HyperNormalisation‘, available on the BBC iPlayer. 

“We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless migrant crisis, random bomb attacks. And those who are supposed to be in power are paralysed – they have no idea what to do.


This film is the epic story of how we got to this strange place. It explains not only why these chaotic events are happening – but also why we, and our politicians, cannot understand them.

It shows that what has happened is that all of us in the West – not just the politicians and the journalists and the experts, but we ourselves – have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world. But because it is all around us we accept it as normal.

But there is another world outside. Forces that politicians tried to forget and bury forty years ago – that then festered and mutated – but which are now turning on us with a vengeful fury. Piercing through the wall of our fake world.”

This will be a great piece of additional work for you. Not only is it a brilliantly edited documentary with a wealth of found/stock footage montage but it also presents radical ideas. Please watch and then we can all get coffee one afternoon to discuss.

The Echo Chamber

This is a fascinating concept and one  connected to our role as Media students. It is also something incredibly relevant to our lives, especially recently.

The night of the European Union Referendum I checked my Facebook and various online media sites and then got ready for sleep. It seemed quite clear how the vote was going to go and  many of my friends on Facebook had shared how they voted so I felt pretty confident about the outcome. I went to sleep expecting to wake up still in the European Union.

xE9pKYou all know what happened when we woke up that morning. I picked up my phone and clicked on the news app where it revealed that Britain had voted to leave the European Union. I was flabbergasted. I read on and checked other news sites and they all confirmed the same thing. I felt like I had woken up inside a Kafka novel. Turning on Facebook also revealed that nearly all of my friends had also been as surprised as I was at the result. Everyone, it seemed was absolutely livid.

But how could this be? Everywhere I looked online had revealed a ‘Remain’ outcome and especially my Facebook. I had unexpectedly fallen into the Echo Chamber.

The Echo Chamber is a place where your own ideas, values and beliefs are echoed by all those around you. It is a place where likeminded individuals repeat and often amplify these views so much that opposing views are either drowned out or are never heard. The views are echoed so much and so successfully that you end up convincing yourself that yours is the only view or at least the most valid. From Wikipedia:

Participants in online communities may find their own opinions constantly echoed back to them, which reinforces their individual belief systems. This can create significant barriers to critical discourse within an online medium. Due to forming friendships and communities with like-minded people, this effect can also occur in real life. The echo chamber effect may also prevent individuals from noticing changes in language and culture involving groups other than their own. Regardless, the echo chamber effect reinforces one’s own present world view, making it seem more correct and more universally accepted than it really is.[5] Another emerging term for this echoing and homogenizing effect on the Internet within social communities is cultural tribalism.[6]

But is this a problem? Surely, it’s a good thing to be surrounded by like-minded people? Perhaps. And perhaps not.

By existing in the Echo Chamber we run the risk of not really knowing what the world is truly like. When I went to bed that night I honestly thought most of the country had the same point of view as me regarding the EU. I was wrong.

This is dangerous because it can lead to limited critical thinking on very serious topics. We need to expose ourselves to opposing ideas, values and beliefs to both understand them and if appropriate, argue against them. But we can only do that if we allow ourselves to exit the Echo Chamber. But if we do we run the risk of listening to views we disagree with, we might get offended, we might get upset. However, we also might have a better understanding of the world around us and that, my dear students, will always be a good thing. Even if we discover truths we consider ugly.

To find out more about the concept of the Echo Chamber and its place in mass media, party politics and culture then head over to David Byrne’s website to read his article.


Orlando Shooting and the Mass Media


The recent shootings at an Orlando, Florida gay club have, understandably, caused a lot of emotional responses and these have been ricocheting around the world all weekend and are likely to continue for some time. As students of the mass media we are in a position where we can analyse these responses and flex our critical thinking muscles in an ongoing assessment of how this tragedy is represented.


Thoughts and Prayers

What exactly does this phrase actually mean? Political leaders, influential opinion makers and the regular Joe swamped social media with the now ubiquitous phrase of, ‘thoughts and prayers’, which is the default setting for any public disaster. It is a commonplace phrase and most likely to be used in America, where religious belief is rife. The surface idea behind the phrase is to communicate that one is ‘praying’ for the victims of the disaster. But in America, especially, it says a lot more than that. In the comedian Anthony Jeselnik’s stand-up routine, a clip below to demonstrate, he talks about the saying, ‘thoughts and prayers’ is essentially worthless as it offers neither time, energy or money to help the situation. His argument is that it is actually a selfish phrase to use because it has the appearance of sympathy with none of the effect. It is designed as a ‘get-out clause’ in moments of disaster and allows the person using the phrase to simply use it and move on.

Perhaps prayer works, I don’t know. But I do know that real political movements, real change and real disaster relief takes action, not just thinking about it.       

Modus Operandi

We may never know why 29 year old Omar Mateen walked into a crowded Orlando gay nightclub and murdered 49 people, wounding a further 53. Many news reports were eager to point out that he had, ‘extreme Islamic ideologies’, that he might be linked to ‘Isis/IS’ and of course we have the use of the word, ‘terror’, which has now become synonymous with religious extremism. President Obama himself referred to the disaster as ‘an act of terrorism’. Simply by using that phrase Obama has connoted that this is a religious related attack because of the association the words have with other attacks of the last 15 years. But is it? US officials have stated that there is no direct link with Islamic State but that’s not quite as good a headline.

Other reports suggest that he was angered by the sight of two gay men kissing in downtown Miami. It is hard to accept that the sight of two men embracing each other would drive someone to mass murder but perhaps it did. If this is the case then we need to do more in terms of positive representation of queer people. “But won’t that cause more people to get angry”? I hear you ask. I don’t think so. I think that increased representation of any marginalised group in society helps people see minorities as human and less as the ‘other’. This is where you, as Media students, come in. You are the next generation of media producers, editors and writers. Part of how we, as human beings, see ourselves is going to be your job.

Can Love Trump Hate?

Within minutes of the massacre hitting social media our leaders did the most important thing one can do when faced with a mass shooting. They went on Twitter.

Donald Trump, of course, wasted no time in using the death of 50 people to enhance his political career and even managed to use it as a means to call for Obama’s resignation and as a scaremongering tactic against voting for Hillary Clinton. But he certainly wasn’t alone in using the tragedy for his own means. Every leader was obliged to say something for fear of appearing dispassionate. We live in a society where we are so eager to ‘call someone out’ (see my piece on shaming) that most statements from our political leaders have become absurd in their meaninglessness.

Trump’s narrative is one of fear and crisis. Every opportunity he gets he uses it to remind people that the ‘other’ is after you and are going to kill you and your family. It is interesting to analyse his tweets and statements and see how his campaign is built around a very simplistic narrative of impending doom and how he’s only one that can save us. It might be simplistic but his popularity has revealed it is also incredibly successful. Trump’s campaign has tapped into the American zeitgeist of fear and he has been using it to own advantage. The Orlando attack has led Trump’s supporters to use confirmation bias to enhance and confirm their already pre-existing fear of ‘otherness’.

News Values

A massacre of this size will help sell a lot of newspapers and act as immense clickbait for news websites. As uncomfortable as it is hearing that it won’t make it any less true. We have the headlines with with ‘Worst Shooting in US History‘ and you all know the value of a new story like this, it has Negativity, Recency (24 rolling news!), reference to one of the ‘Elite Nations’ (“How could this happen in America?”) and Size. It seems nearly every way this story is being told is focusing on these news values, especially ‘size’. Have a glance at the news websites and count how many refer to the amount of victims and how it is the worst massacre since 9/11. 

Today’s The Sun website refers to the perpetrator as the, ‘ISIS Killer’, despite no actual evidence linking Mateen to the terrorist organisation. Whilst sites like The Huffington Post offers news journalism it also offers a lot of opinion pieces (like the one you’re reading) but when you have opinion, news and entertainment side by side it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between them all.

In a fascinating article published this morning in the The Guardian, journalist Owen Jones eloquently discusses how some news organisations have neglected to mention that this was an attack on LGBT people. He had appeared on Sky News the night before and was so affronted by their willingness to turn the ‘other’ into the ‘invisible’ that he actually walked off. In the interview, Jones was trying to tell the interviewer that this was an attack on LGBT people and that it should be called just that, a homophobic attack. But he was shouted down by the interviewer, Mark Longhurst, who said it was more about an attack on ‘human beings’ enjoying themselves. This is a clear example of how the mass media have the power to reshape a narrative which sidelines an already marginalised community.

And so, my dear students, it is down to you yet again. As the future journalists, film and television makers and designers part of how we represent, report and reflect on massacres like the terrible shooting in Orlando will be in part your responsibility. You may choose to continue how it is today, or maybe, just maybe you’ll decide the world deserves a better mass media and represent the terrible things which happen to us with critical thinking, compassion and above all else, truth. Or at least the closest we can get to it.

Perhaps he was an IS agent or a lone assassin or maybe he really was angered by seeing two men kissing. Regardless of his motives, it is clear that he grew up in a culture where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are still seen as ‘other’, as ‘them’. This is why understanding representation theory and applying it to our lives and work is so important.