People often ask me, “Lauren! Wherever do you get your ideas for these editorials?” (I lied, nobody ever asks me that. But it’s a good starting point and so I’m going to roll with it). I’d love to say that I pull all these topics from the well of my own mind, but it’s more likely than not that I’ll need to search for some inspiration before settling in to write. Where do I find this inspiration, you may ask? Is it in books? Through meaningful conversations with my peers? Through self-reflection, even? Well, it’s something like that: I use Twitter a lot.
Yes, I’m one of Those People. For me, to be honest, the main appeal of the app is the pictures of cute animals, but it’s also true that Twitter is now where I get most of my news. I don’t use other social media to such a degree, and I only ever listen to the radio when I’m alone in my house and want some background noise (like an anxious puppy, I know). Every major world event that has unfolded over the past year or so, I have followed in tweet form. This is both a blessing and curse. A blessing, because it’s interesting to follow news stories in real time. A curse, because Twitter can be, y’know, a cesspit.
We’re talking here about one of the main culprits in the ‘fake news’ epidemic (AKA ‘alternative facts’, AKA ‘powerful people are wilfully spreading lies and propaganda and it’s really about time that we started acknowledging this phenomenon for what it actually is’). Whereas fringe extremist groups once upon a time had to eke out a space for themselves in some forgotten corner of the internet, in recent months we’ve seen far-right rhetoric normalised to such an extent that it’s now not surprising to stumble across blatant racism, xenophobia and jingoism on the ‘front page’ of the internet without much being done to combat it.
It’s not good enough anymore to claim that these phenomena aren’t having a real effect on our day-to-day lives. In finding links to news stories on Twitter, for example, you find yourself entering a strange ‘meta’ space wherein the news you’re getting from social media is increasingly centred around what’s happening on social media – what’s been posted, what’s being said, and who’s saying it – rather than real-world events, because often it’s the online reaction that gets more attention. We’re falling into a dangerous cycle: because everything on social media – including the news – can now understandably be suspected of being opinion rather than fact, it’s become far too easy to tailor reality to suit our own interests. It’s become far too easy to blur the lines of truth and fiction. It’s become far too easy to believe what is easy to believe.
Presenting opinion as fact is a political tactic. When people desperately want to hold on to whatever power they have, they will lie to you. They will scapegoat. They will point fingers. The rise of fascism in the West is not an accident, nor is it an inevitability: it is designed to keep control in the hands of the already powerful by convincing the world that it is the powerless who are to blame. They will lie to you, they will lie to you, they will lie to you. Whether you’re complacent in that is entirely up to you.
Oh, and get off the internet once in awhile. Have a cup of tea! Look at the clouds! Hug someone! Being aware of stuff is exhausting.