One of the first things I leared as a young man working in television news was ‘control the message, control the people.’ It wasn’t anything that was written in Sharpie in the television news reader. It became apparent as I observed reporters, and how they edited stories. As I watch the Occupy Wall Streat protest develop through the lense of social media though, I’m struck by how much the control of the message has changed in the years since I worked in television news.
When you read reports like (this one from Naomi Wats)[http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/nov/25/shocking-truth-about-crackdown-occupy] I’m struck by the futility of the traditional media being used to control the message. The only traditional media I can think of that has any pertinence in the social channel world we live in is John Stewart, and he himself claims that he is not a news organization. When is the last time that something from the traditional media went viral? Maybe the Japanese Tsunami?
Traditional media is wholesale message control. When there was a relative monopoly on news distribution it was possible for those in power to co-opt that media infrastructure at a relatively low cost. Probably the high point of wholesale media control was just after 9/11, when most news media was consumed via television and to a lesser extent print publication.
Today Netflix accounts for the majority of Internet traffic, and people are cutting their cable television cords. The days of wholesale media control are disappearing, and there’s really no way for us to return to those days. When people get their news from social media, from the high-tech word of mouth, control of media becomes a retail affair, one more difficult, and in the environment of Internet time, ever changing.
This is the same story with all media really, but it’s particularly important when talking about news media. News media has been in decline for decades, and the latest attempts at message control since the Arab Spring have put a fine point on this. The Arab Spring was an amazing achievement for social media. It wasn’t that Twitter caused the revolutions in the middle-east, it is that Twitter provided an uncontrollable medium through which social media could flow that overrode the traditional media in many ways. Two things deeply effect this. People don’t trust the traditional media anymore, and people DO trust their friends, even if those friends are just people they met on Facebook.
The Arab Spring isn’t an exclusively Arab event when seen in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street. It’s the realization that we have passed the Social Media Singularity. Just as oppresive governments in the middle east could no longer control the message that was disseminated to its citizens, so too traditional media can no longer control the message that reaches any people. It’s grossly apparent in hindsight, but events like the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street bring it into stark relief.
The days when a few powerfull men could get together and try to control the message are quickly setting. To paraphrase Jarvis, we are reclaiming our Publics. Just as Guttenberg threw the media of the time into disarray, so too will this Social Media Singularity we’ve passed. There’s no stopping it now.