Last Updated on September 8, 2019 by Karl Thompson
Cultural pessimists point to the possible downsides of the New Media such as the rise of Fake News, domination of a few media companies, the rise of echo-chambers, the reinforcing of elite power and increasing commercialisation.
Cultural pessimists criticise the cultural optimist view of new media.
More information is not necessarily a good thing
There may be more information, more news channels and blogs, but a lot this is just copied and modified slightly, or recycled from other places.
Some of the information online may just be ‘fake news’ – deliberately misleading to serve political or corporate ends. The Vote Leave campaign is a good example of this.
More information sources make it more difficult to verify the sources of information, and this is not always possible (in which case you should not use the information!)
information overload may be a problem – having too much data too deal with.
Constant news feeds can lead to us just being ‘distracted by the new’ rather than taking the time to look at one thing in depth. We end up with a shallower understanding of the world as a result.
Domination by media conglomerates
Pessimists argue that rather than the internet being a free space which allows for the free development of individual expression, it has come to be controlled by a handful of big tech companies – namely Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.
These companies have invested hugely in New Media in the last decade and they now control not only access to social media sites but also search engines and the web servers which store our information.
There are examples of people being de-platformed without warning or reason on YouTube and Twitter – typically those who hold radical views, suggesting these companies determine who can express what on social media.
So marginalised groups might be able to blog and have a say, but you’ll only be able to find them if these companies allow you!
Social Media has led to more polarisation and conflict – Social networks are increasingly isolated from each other into ‘bubbles’ or ‘echo chambers’ – people find other people with the same views as them and they all follow each other and just reinforce their own views of the world. People are now less likely to see views which challenge their own. As a result, we have a polarisation of opinion. The case of Brexit is a great example of this.
As well as allowing for ordinary people to connect with each other globally, the internet also makes it easier for organised crime to commit phishing (mass emails) and to sell drugs online, among other crimes.
Groups like 4chan are also a good example of the downside of online global communities – largely anonymous groups who organised collective trolling and hacking just for the lols.
Reinforcing Elite Power
Mainstream political parties now run sophisticated advertising campaigns using big data to manipulate the public into voting for them: Trump’s campaign and the Brexit campaign are two examples of this.
Larger political parties and corporations have more money to spend on advertising to keep their biased information at the top of internet search engines such as Google.
The most radical views are censored – while individuals may be free to express any opinion online, some of the most radical have de-platformed.
Politics is much less visible than entertainment on the internet – suggesting critical political thought is ‘drowned out’ more than ever
Surveillance – the ex-CIA analyst claimed in 2015 that the British security services had the technology to access the information stored on people’s smartphones.
Increasing consumption and commercialisation
The internet seems to have turned into a sphere of consumption, where most of what we see is aimed at selling us something. It is hard to read some news sites, such as The Independent, because of the sheer amount of space devoted to advertising.
Companies such as Amazon use the data we collect to find out our preferences and sell it to advertising companies, so they can target ads at users more effectively, thus manipulating them to buy products they wouldn’t normally buy – it’s estimated that 1/3rd of all Amazon purchase are a result of ‘recommendations’ for example.
This is a very brief ‘list post’ – more depth posts (and references) to follow later in 2019!