Shaping a Media for People and Planet – A MAHB Dialogue with Isaiah Poole and Laura Flanders
Geoff Holland – Some people have characterized the global media, particularly social media, as the nervous system of humanity. Is that how you see it, and if so, why is that an apt description?
Isaiah Poole and Laura Flanders – Before the internet, humanity already had a nervous system: real friends, next-door neighbors, librarians, schoolteachers, beat reporters and local media from the town crier to local papers, and TV and radio stations. Many of those have taken a hit with the rise of globalized media and social platforms. That’s not to say that there aren’t examples of global media serving the public good. Today, news spreads in minutes that once would have taken days or even months. Pictures of koalas caught in bushfires, kids killed by cops or news of epidemics speed around the globe. Still, there’s no denying that the internet, that once promised to connect people, peer to peer, across borders, without hierarchy or control, has instead given rise to concentrated monopolies with no transparent code of ethics and a vested interest in mass manipulation, surveillance and what can amount to mind-control. The problem is with the business model rather than the DNA of today’s media technology, but the dismal effects on human relations and the health of society are apparent everywhere.
GH – If the world’s media does function like a civilization-scale nervous system, why isn’t it doing a better job of informing and inspiring collective action against such existential threats as human overpopulation, climate change, and the rapacious overexploitation of our Earth’s resources?
IP & LF – Many journalists and some media outlets work valiantly to document and call attention to the world’s many crises, but the odds they’re up against are huge. Mercenary media owned by vast for-profit corporations are directly invested in consumerism, competition, and short-term thinking, not cooperation or the health of the world. That’s largely because the algorithms that drive up ratings and advertising revenue reward extremism, sharp contrasts and shock. “Engagement” with this content is valuable for ads—and underwriting. It’s disastrous for the social fabric. This is the calculus that brought us an election campaign in 2016 in which Donald Trump dominated all the networks and received more than twice as much airtime as Hillary Clinton and 10 times as much as Bernie Sanders.