Online media is feeding on your tears

02a September 20, 2014 -- (asphalt)

I don't usually bash things or people on the great superhighway of the Internets, and not because I find it degrading or anything of the sort; on the contrary, I think of it as a very useful tool, especially in those particularly nasty times when sorting humans from animals1. No, I avoid doing this because it doesn't give me any pleasure, while this blog, like the one before it, was created solely for my pleasure and your struggling to comprehend it.

However, there are times when I must, and here and now is one of those times. The target is, as you have most probably already guessed, the so-called "online media" or "social media" or whatever it is they buzzword it nowadays.

The story is, of course, much older than that. "Traditional" forms of media, mainly radio, TV and paper journalism, were conceived in the previous century as a means to convey information more efficiently to the masses, hence the buzzword "mass media". Now, if we look beyond the naïve definition, we will find that "mass media" had been used for more perverse reasons as early as the days before World War II, if not earlier; I am not referring to pornography2. The more "efficient" means of communication were also more efficient at spreading lies among the masses, going as far as providing the means for mass brainwashing, or -- is that how they call it? -- collective psychosis3. Lies, however, are just false information, while mass media channels can transmit much more than that, i.e. strength, anger, violence, etc.

Given this whole mass media mess, the Internet, particularly the World Wide Web, had been a breath of fresh air in the 1990s and the early 2000s. Things were a lot more simpler before Yahoo and Google and Twitter; oh, also, Facebook, how in the world could I forget that one? All these services aren't in any way evolutionary steps "in the right way". Yes, they help people become "more connected"4 and they provide better "user experience" and other such non-qualities; yes, they were made to be accessible, maybe the most accessible stuff on the Internet, browsable while you sit on the couch holding your tablet or your phone in your hands, but it also happens that all this stuff doesn't matter at the end of the day, because they never actually brought any significant improvements to your life in the first place. In all fairness though, these so-called "social networks" are useful in a few limited circumstances; otherwise, they're places where everyone talks and no one listens to anybody, where users are divided into "content providers" and "content consumers", because fuck it, they just had to make new "mass media", also known as "online media", that looks just like the old one and inherits all of its flaws.

Thus, the "smart guys" are profiting from this one in exactly the same ways they were profiting from that one. For example it is a well-known practice in Romanian journalism, where a large part of the political fight5 has been moved online, where most so-called newspapers are controlled by political factions. In early August this year, one of the "media moguls", also a guy with lots of political power, Dan Voiculescu, was sentenced to ten years of prison for corruption, which led to a massive backlash from Antena 3, one of the stations he owns. Amusingly enough, a lot of the younger people on Facebook expressed their agreement with the sentence, while the Antena 3 sympathizers, mostly in their 50s or 60s, went as far as to protest in front of the Cotroceni Palace6, which is a clear indicator of the social division in the country. "Amusingly enough" is not a very fitting description though, it would be funny if it weren't so sad.

In the golden age of the World Wide Web, the phenomenon of tear-jerking7 is however global: you may have forgotten the death of Robin Williams, which also occured in early August this year8. There's not much to be said of the actor9, but his death caused a slew of emotional reactions on all the "online media" channels. This is in itself understandable, since we often become attached to characters and in some odd way to the actors fitting in their roles. The bad news about this is that, well, how should I put it; some guys actually make money out of your likes.

Is it cynical? Yeah, maybe. Is it in any way ethical? Hell if I know, you're free to debate this aspect. All I know is that some guys are mining these big data pools and using them to manipulate the users' emotions in order to, well, I don't really give a flying fuck why they do it. The good news, everyone! is that they're succeeding, and they're quite possibly getting better at it in time.

So there you have it, people, your Brave New Media, the junk food of the Internet.


  1. Really, no. You're not born a human, you become a human.

  2. Although that was also one of the more important uses, despite the Christians' cognitive dissonance that it wasn't. Also much to their desperation, in time it's become at least as important as religion itself.

  3. It happened in the 1920s and '30s with fascism and then after World War II in more ways than we can imagine. Orwell has done such a good job of documenting it in 1984, while Huxley has done such a good job of documenting another side of it in Brave New World. They're both at least as valid in today's "mass media"/"online media" context.

  4. Does anybody remember laughter?

  5. Romanian democracy, or rather "democracy", is a peculiar beast. The vast majority of citizens, from common folk to educated people, love, no, they simply crave to discuss and fiercely debate politics, while few of them, about 20 to 30% or so, actually participate in the actual political life by doing the usual stuff that a citizen would do in a functional democracy, such as voting.

  6. The president's main residence. It's a well-known fact that Traian Băsescu, the almost-ex-president of Romania is a very hated figure amongst Antena fans. Hey, I'm running out of epithets here.

  7. Tear-jerking, hate mongering, same crap. It's all "shocking this" and "mindblowing that". Seriously, cut us some slack now, will ya?

  8. It was such a long time ago! I know, right?

  9. I'm really lacking in cinematic education, so I find it hard to have a well thought out opinion about this. To me, Robin Williams is one of those really good actors having the bad luck of being cast in a series of utterly pointless films, such as Bicentennial Man. Oh, and the main character, potrayed by Williams, dies in that movie, and this just goes to show how cold and devoid of meaning death is, and how we're so very afraid of it. But that's nothing really new.