An emerging alternative media ecosystem

ÇETIN KAYA KOÇ
CALIFORNIA
Published 05.04.2017 00:47

Today, every major event in the western world, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, generates tremendous activity on social media immediately after it is reported by the mainstream media, i.e. news and TV.

While the established major news organizations influence and ultimately form the opinions of millions, there are a multitude of others who are not as convinced or satisfied by the versions of the events delivered, if not promoted, by the mainstream media.

This second group of people seems to prefer the versions expressed and developed on/by social media and independent organizations that have already given birth to an alternative media ecosystem, with significant power and reach.

Kate Starbird, a professor at the University of Washington, in her recent paper has studied part of this ecosystem on Twitter, concentrating on mass shooting events in the U.S.

For over 10 months she collected alternative narratives aka conspiracy theories related to major shooting events as reported on Twitter. By connecting the domains shared by the same groups of users, the study concluded that: 1) the alternative media develop, propagate, and shape alternative narratives; and 2) the mainstream media deny them and their claims.

Since this study was concentrated only on the events and their aftermaths in the U.S., the findings were somewhat limited in their scopes. However, they are useful still.

One interesting finding was that the alternative news outlets in the U.S. that were helping to propagate such stories were mostly from the right side of the political spectrum; namely, nationalist and anti-globalist sites.

Every single incident of a mass shooting was followed by significant activity, re-reporting and reinterpretation of the same event by these news sites, challenging the views puzzled together by the mainstream media and the government, in the respective country.

If for example, the event was the attack in Westminster then a search using the key words "Westminster" and "false flag" would reveal millions of tweets, giving and sharing the several identical alternative narratives.

The final saying of this study was that the "world is moving into a menace of unreality in which nobody believes anything anymore."

If we put this study into a larger context, beyond the U.S. and its mass shooting events, and generalize to include events like the Ukraine crisis or the Gezi Park protests in Turkey; it was no longer alternative media here. In fact, both global and local mainstream media were engaged in alternative (and purposeful) interpretation of every single event and for a while, "no sane person believed anything reported by the mainstream media," and searched for reporting from the outside, not just from the alternative media, but also from friends and relatives.

This study expresses, in scientific terms, what we have been observing already for some time now. The trust of the people has been eroding fast, not just on the mainstream media, but also on several important proponents of democracy and the state, such as medical, pharmaceutical, and environmental organizations.

How would you explain people's distrust of vaccines? The number of people in the U.S. unwilling to get their children vaccinated is steadily on the rise. Laughing at them will not solve the problem, but, after letting big pharmaceutical companies get away with deceptions for decades, the government(s) has/have lost credibility along with the companies. Just consider the misreporting on sugar and cholesterol that went on for decades.

The erosion of trust in media is an expected outcome of letting it be exclusively owned by interest groups. When the mainstream media blatantly lies, because its owners' stakes come before the truth in reporting, it leaves people with no choice but to go for the accounts of the alternative media.

Sadly, there is no way of knowing if they are telling the truth either, given there are just too many of them coming up with too many alternative narratives of the same event. But, that would do little to lower interests in them, in the age of social media, after all, the mainstream media is not telling the truth anyway.

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