Mass media has always been a one-sided affair. Media companies produce, and we consume. And as the means of production improved, the balance tilted even more in favor of those who created the content we watched, listened to, and read.
In this regard, media corporations have always been able to dictate the terms of their relationship with the audience. Using sophisticated survey and marketing tools, they not only knew what people wanted to watch, but more often than not, they knew it well before even we did.
What is strange is that, despite people’s intrinsic aversion to any form of abuse of power, as a society we have more or less voluntarily handed over control of the narrative that affects our lives to the media. By letting them choose what stories are important to us, and which people we should pay attention to – we have allowed media to create the realities that guide our view of the world. They now shape not only who we should believe in, but even what to believe. And this is all on us.
In exchange, media was supposed to protect us by speaking truth to power, and being our bulwark of impartial truth. A force that would stand against those who would trample the rights of the people. We naively believed that they had our best interests in mind even when evidence clearly pointed to the fact that they were in it for their own gains.
Just like the corrupt governments and abusive churches who came before them (and whom they were supposed to battle on our behalf), it wasn’t long before these media companies showed their true colors.
Yet long after they ceased to represent us, people still looked to them for protection. Partly this was because they continued to pour a lot of resources in selling this idea of a crusading media industry to the public, but mostly it was because we really did not have any other choice. Somewhere along the way, it just became easier to acquiesce to their version of reality than to believe in our own.
That is, until all of these social media platforms came into the picture.
Now before proceeding, let me just clarify that in talking about social media, I don’t only mean the personalities who are essentially outliers in what is otherwise a democratic and flat communications landscape. Rather I am referring to the platform itself, and the billions of people who make up the various networks. This is the real social media.
The development of social media has allowed for the democratization of not just the process of receiving and consuming content, but also – and more importantly- its production. People are no longer limited to being passive audiences, they can now participate in the conversation on an equal – or close to equal footing – with media companies.
And this is what scares the shit out of these corporate media outfits.
Having grown fat and lazy from years of monopolizing the information production and distribution industry, they are now being ravaged by a hungrier, more agile competitor that seems hell bent on dismantling mainstream media’s dominance one headline and sound byte at a time.
Mainstream media is threatened by the growth of the participative audience. People who are no longer content to merely sit and listen, but who also want to have their say. And be heard. To engage in real, meaningful dialogues that can change perceptions and shift realities.
These are the people that mainstream media have labelled as trolls and online malcontents for refusing to blindly accept what they say as being the gospel truth. Ironically, these are also the same people that they rely on to keep their businesses afloat.