Way back in the olden thymes, “the media” was the local newspaper, news radio and the evening news on the television. My father would read the paper every evening after dinner, while my mother would watch the evening news. Once in a while my mother would put on the radio and listen to the news channel, but that was rare. If the people in charge wanted to get the attention of the peasants, they had to do it in those small windows when people paid any attention to the news.
We live in a different age, but it is a very new age. We are saturated with media. Young people have no frame of reference so they just assume it has always been thus, but our modern mass media culture is one of those rare things that is truly new. It really was not so long ago when it was easy to be entirely uninformed about the world. It took great effort to be well informed. That’s not to say we are all worldly cosmopolitans, but the world is literally at our fingertips. More important, media is everywhere and it hard to escape it.
This newness means that the people in charge have struggled to put it to their uses. Buying off a few newspaper publishers was easy. Controlling the three TV networks required hardly any effort at all. A free wheeling mass media with millions of bloggers, podcasters and small outlets is a different task. Rounding up the farm’s bull is a hard job, but rounding up all the barn cats is actually much tougher. The former can get you killed, but the latter has a maddening number of variables.
When the masses started to get on-line, the “media experts” said it was ushering in an era of wonderfulness because the people would now have a say. The news would be interactive! It was not that long ago when every Progressive commentator went on and on about the wonderfulness of interactive media. I used to laugh at it as I was on-line long before the media airheads had heard of the internet. I knew those hothouse flowers would not last very long in the rough and tumble world of the internet, but like missionaries headed off to the the jungle, they were sure it was going to be great
I was thinking about that yesterday when National Review announced they had been taken over by Facebook. Like a lot of these sites, they learned the hard way that their audience was not going to just nod along and clap when instructed. Instead, they posted articles and the comments filled up with ridicule and criticism. That led to lots of comments from NR writers about the awfulness of the comment threads. Now that millennial pansies are in charge, they have turned it over to Facebook to police their comments.
It turns out that popular opinion is not all that popular with the people in the media. All over, news and opinion sites are clamping down on comments. They are heavily policed or they are shut down entirely. Twitter has allowed a band of angry lesbians to take over the moderation duties. Reddit hired Chinese grifter Ellen Pao to chase off the bad thinkers. Faceberg, of course, is run by howling lunatics, who ban people for any deviation from the orthodoxy. The media is slowly shutting down public comment in a rather deliberate effort to shut down dissent.
This started a couple of years ago, but the process has been accelerating. The claim from the media is the comment sections are revolting. Coincidentally, it is happening just when the public is revolting. It also coincides with a sudden solidarity among the media. They no longer seem to be divided along ideological lines. Now, they are quite unified. Read National Review, for example, and you could be forgiven for thinking it is New York Magazine or Salon. Glenn Beck, once the scourge of the Left, is now getting a sex change and supporting Clinton.
It’s one of those things you can read different ways. It could be real fear on the part of media over what’s coming their way through the comment sections. This is the sort of thing we associate with reactionaries facing a revolution. The people in charge try to suppress dissent so they can win the public relations campaign. If only one side can speak and they are holding a megaphone, enough people will be swayed to back the regime so that the revolt losses steam. That’s the theory, anyway.
On the other hand, the Cloud People speak a slightly different language than the rest of us. It’s why a crime story using the phrase “Minnesota man” means the man was not from Minnesota or even North America. In the language of the Cloud, interactive may have meant that they yell at you and you obey. These are people who truly believe they are called by the blank spot where God once existed to lead the Dirt People in the right direction. Ask any of them why they chose their career and they say, “I wanted to make a difference.”
There’s also the possibility that the people in media are just very stupid. Spend any time on an elite college campus and it is not hard to figure out that they select for things other than raw IQ. The kids that end up in the soft majors are not selected because they pegged the math portion of their SAT. Way back in the stone age, I was in college with a couple of rich kids who were as dumb as goldfish. But, family money is worth two SD’s on the entrance exams so they were accepted and put into sociology and psychology respectively.
My sense is that the Cloud People are beginning to master the new media tools. Oddly, the lesson they are learning is the lesson the Nazis learned. People naturally follow the herd. Put the herd into a big arena, pump in some emotional content and the herd goes where you tell it. Go to a Dallas Cowboy game and watch the buildup. It’s easy to see what happened in Germany.The 20 minutes before the game is a Nuremberg rally. Even if you’re not from Texas, you want to put on a cowboy hat, pull on your boots and defend the Alamo.
We are social animals that look to one another for guidance and acceptance. Unleashing click farms to promote the Cloud People narrative, while demoting the critics, gets the herd moving in the right direction. It also keeps the people holding the megaphones in high spirits. By having only cheering crowds in their line of sight, they truly feel they are making a difference and therefore redouble their efforts for the cause. That’s the weird thing about propaganda. It’s often more effective on the sender than the receiver.
All of this is fine if your ideal society is one where the bulk of the people are treated like cattle. That’s certainly the way our world has shaped up so far in the mass media age. The “big data” guys start from the assumption that we’re all in the hive. following orders from the queen via subtle signalling and nudging. Alter the composition of the signals and you alter society. The drones have no agency of their own. That’s the theory and maybe they are right. The great success of central planning suggest they may be onto something.