George Orwell 1984

Working in the digital arena I’ve noticed some things that are a little Orwellian. Are we living out 1984? Let’s talk about it.

First, I will drop my standard disclaimer here: This is not intended to be a political post. I will try really hard to leave left and right out of the conversation. What I do want to talk about is how information is funneled to us in the “social media” age.

How “Social Media” Controls Information

You’ll notice that I always put “social media” in quotes. I do this because I remember when these platforms were actually social. That is no longer the case and I prefer to refer to them as corporate media.

I used to go to Facebook and see posts from my friends and family. We would tag each other, comment, share, and interact. Now if I go to Facebook, I rarely see posts from friends, but instead, Facebook-selected content the algorithm thinks I should see.

Instagram used to be a place where people would share their passions visually. I would enjoy seeing people’s artistic expressions. Now, I see paid content, and corporate accounts using the platform to drive traffic to their business.

TikTok has always had its problems, but during some of our more turbulent times with protests and riots in the street, this became a great source for citizen reporters live-streaming the un-sanitized reality of what was happening before CNN and Fox could tell it their way. Now, it’s sponsored content and, again, a gateway for corporations to reach consumers.

Twitter/X hits you immediately with “What’s happening” and “Who to follow.” Using an algorithm, you are, once again, presented with the stories and opinions someone else decided you should see.

Here’s another one. Go to YouTube and check out what’s on the front page. There was a time when YouTube was something amazing for average people who wanted to connect with the world digitally. Now most of the videos that you see will be from individuals and corporations that have millions of dollars to buy placement on your screen. The merger with Google also means that what you see is tied to your demographic information so they can determine “what you should see.”

1984 in 2024

In George Orwell’s 1984, the biggest source of power and the thing that really put the last nail in the coffin for freedom was the control of information. Books and paper were banned, because all information had to come through the “official” sources. You couldn’t allow people to write things down and suggest a different narrative.

Today, more than half of Americans get their news from “social media.” In the past, we had newsstands and magazine racks where people would find information. While these are not banned like in 1984, the number of print publications has gone down while their prices have gone up significantly, pushing more people to rely on information funneled through corporate media.

To make matters worse, these once-trusted news publications have shifted their strategy to digital content and paywalls to remain competitive. So here we are in a world where well-researched journalism is harder to get than targeted misinformation funded by those who can afford to buy our attention.

The “Social Medis” Paradox and What to Do About It

It does not escape me that while I intensely dislike modern corporate media, I use it in my work and life every day. The paradox is that “social media” is creating a problem by controlling what people see, but the only way to bring attention to the problem is through “social media.”

“social media” is a lot like Congress. It’s supposed to work for us, but somewhere along the way things changed and we seem to be serving it and the corporations behind it. How do we fix this?

The pessimistic answer would be that we can’t. If there is any hope, however, it comes from knowledge. I mean real knowledge, the kind that you seek out rather than the information that is spoon-fed to you.

I’ve started looking through old collections of Time magazines and newspapers and it’s amazing to see the contrast in the current event reporting of the past with today’s narratives of our history pushed by algorithms.

They say that if we don’t learn about our past, we are doomed to repeat our past mistakes. We also cannot truly understand our current world if we do not see all sides of the issues we face. And yet, we continue to get our information from sources that rewrite history and present current news through a filter that only presents the parts and perspectives hand-picked by the algorithm.

The only way to break the cycle is to start seeking out information rather than consuming what is thrown in front of you. Don’t listen to the Left and Right telling you about what the other guys are doing, but go read Congressional Bills yourself and know what they are doing. Don’t let corporate media tell you about history and science. Go to your local library and read the texts that were published before these corporate agendas existed.

George Carlin famously said that “[those in charge] don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking.” No quote could better reflect our current situation, and if you want to fight it, put down your phone and pick up a book that Big Brother doesn’t want you to read.

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