Media is relevant! Rarely before has unbiased, responsible investigative reporting been more important. In an era where every desktop has the ability and potential to influence a narrative, we need independent and trusted news sources.
But independent media is under assault. Special interests, political entities and even bad actor states can manage messaging, direct attention and in some cases create friction in social fabric. The prevalence of social media and the art of managing platforms has no barrier to entry.
A few days ago I posted a fictitious story on social media stating “bridge tolls were reduced to $25 and the proposed medical school was being converted to a long-term senior care facility.” Within the realm of possibility, but not — currently — correct. I did not amplify or pay to increase distribution; but the responses were immediate. Mostly people who knew me and assumed I was joking, and later political positioning then anticipated vitriol of trolls.
The point being, sharing information is easy. Sharing misinformation is easy. Influencing public opinion through social media is actually very easy. A concept well understood by political pundits — more active in the U.S. but we are not immune in Canada or P.E.I. We are particularly vulnerable where creditable opposition is weak or non-existent.
Online News Act
Earlier this year, Justin Trudeau did force the hand of social media companies to either compensate news repurposing or stop broadcasting. As there was no financial benefit to distribute, they rationally discontinued their news feeds. Immediately the lights on traditional media dimmed as social media purveyors could no longer access responsible content in their feeds. The vacuum would be short lived and replaced with other sources of information.
Some local media participants decried the action of large corporate interests, but the action was rational in the face of irrational government regulation. Thus, underscoring the importance of allowing localized media to remain responsive, relevant and accountable; as large faceless public entities in markets outside Canada are responsible to a different constituent, their shareholders.
Media remains under threat. The breadth of resources has declined notably in my tenure of contribution.
Media is becoming increasingly challenged at the local level. We should all remain vigilant to messaging that is not from an accredited source, and if we expect responsible local journalism there is only one avenue to receive it. Support local media, sponsor those employed locally by supporting the delivery and advertising.
If we allow local media to decline, we will be left with newsfeeds on social platforms not based or concerned with our locality, and we will lose an important connectivity to our community and sense of self. Once the media leaf falls from the tree, it will not be replaced – and the tree is presently in declining health.
Until you see bridge fares drop – buy a local paper and digest local radio and television programming. If they do drop, then the power of social messaging will be confirmed.
Blake Doyle is The Guardian’s small business columnist.