Alternative media's strengths can become its weaknesses

Published 19.11.2018 00:00
Updated 19.11.2018 00:53

When social media and other forms of alternative internet media flourished and were poised to rapidly overtake the mainstream media as the front-runners in their field, it was considered as a cause for celebration by many. It was certainly viewed as a positive thing, even from the mainstream media's perspective in a sense, as competition almost always served the greater good of society. This new form of media did not have the same type of state oversight, or the same baggage accumulated from a long history, or the archaic notions and methods of the mainstream media. This was seen as a good thing by many. But nowadays, those views are changing as the strengths of social media become its weaknesses on its climb to the top.

This time let's look at TV channels and their competition instead of newspapers. Continuing to hang onto its position as the chief video hosting website, YouTube's brief history has been one of success, especially after it was acquired by Google. The days of YouTube being solely for watching quirky and funny videos are long over as this major platform now hosts some of the most influential personalities and channels these days. From political pundits, talk shows, podcasts, news channels and many examples of investigative journalism, the website is also on its way to overtake traditional news channels as the main provider for political discussions, especially in the United States.

It is not all sunshine and rainbows however. Lately the platform has become one of the focal points of the culture war in the U.S. as YouTube becomes heavy handed when it comes to regulating political discourse on its website. The starting point of the criticisms were the demonetization of channels that are leaning right, thus depriving them of the share of income from the advertisements. These warnings were also applied liberally to these channels, leading to accusations of YouTube acting with a left-wing bias by punishing channels at odds with their preferred narratives.

However these accusations, whether they have widespread validity or not, have little teeth at the end. After all, YouTube is a private business and is within its rights to manage its platform according to its own set of standards. Therein lies a problem though. If we are to accept that these platforms are slowly replacing the mainstream media, which despite its biases has its own checks and balances, both in the form of traditional principles and state oversight, then we are also moving toward a "wild west" scenario as far as public discourse is concerned. If alternative media becomes the mainstream while avoiding the restraints and protections for the current mainstream media, who can say what the future holds. The recent Facebook hearings in U.S. Senate brought little in the form of consequence as their free rein continues.

The argument against this view would be that the eventual course correction provided by capitalism and its competitive nature will create balance. But it is important to note that there is a political side of things superseding profits in the priorities of Silicon Valley. Not to mention that against the big players, newcomers have little recourse if they are targeted with a political motivation by Silicon Valley's giants. It is easy to quash alternatives in their infancy. From blocking Paypal payments to doxing, it is not very feasible for new platform to overtake or serve as a political alternative to the more established existing ones.

Another important thing to note here is that even if we disregard the future of the industry and accept that private businesses can do what they want, their own inconsistency and increasingly draconian actions show an alarming trend. Small channels on YouTube have little-to-no chance if they are at odds with Silicon Valley's political alignments, while bigger channels only manage to get a stay of execution if they can cause a big enough uproar. Whether this is due to the biases of individual YouTube employees or the company's own stance, this inconsistency of treatment does not paint a good picture going forward.

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