Happy New Year everyone.
I retweeted this earlier.
The U.K. spent the dying days of 2018 in a panic about a so-called ‘migrant crisis’ even though the numbers of people involved are dwarfed by those affected by the food bank crisis, the housing crisis… and lots of other crises.
And yet the media and politicians were all motivated enough to spend countless column inches and broadcast hours on the issue of a few migrant boats coming to our shores, filled with people who want to contribute to our society because their own is dangerous, dysfunctional and/or non-existent.
We are told repeatedly that the Brexit vote of 2016 was ‘about immigration.’ Among those who opposed the vote, many blame the fact that the ‘threat’ from immigration (legal and illegal) was relentlessly touted by vote-seeking, populist politicians, and racist tabloid hacks. This feels true to me.
Why then, do we allow the news agenda to be set for us in this way? Why do we allow the manipulation to continue? Why, when the problem was adequately diagnosed so many years ago, cannot it not be countered? Why is our opposition to this pernicious messaging so inadequate?
Filter bubbles? Over reliance on hashtags? People moaning on twitter and on blogs like this one, instead of pulling the real levers of power?
Of course, the same phenomenon is in play in the United States too. Donald Trump is able to distract the media whenever he wants, simply by posting an incendiary tweet.
Which suggests that the problem is not simply a few journalists making poor editorial decisions, but some fundamental groupthink—one that social media users are guilty of as much as those with larger platforms. Just as editors of mainstream outlets chase eyeballs, clicks and sales, so social media users chase the engagement and validation of retweets, likes and follows.
These are issues that have been analysed extensively in the last few years, and yet we seem unable to change our ways. We scream at the politicians who seem to know that the policies they pursue will be damaging (Hard Brexit, climate change), and yet they pursue the same old policies anyway. But we, the public, engage in similar behaviours when it comes to perpetuating and exacerbating manipulative media cycles.