By Abel Merawi
May 14, 2021 (Ezega.com) -- There seems to be a global shift of information sources; a shift from the mainstream to social media. This shift brought both encouraging and discouraging outcomes, and so it may be hasty to jump to a conclusion and harshly criticize either source. However, a proper diagnosis is necessary in both cases if we are to make an informed prognosis. An understanding of this shift requires closer scrutiny regarding mainstream media, the public, social media personalities, and fact-checking.
Firstly, we must observe the defects of mainstream media that have led to public distrust. Then, this public distrust of conventional outlets and, consequently, the shift of public trust to social media needs a deeper analysis. As social media are dominated by special interest groups and individuals, it is also necessary to understand their motives. Finally, as the public is running a risk of trusting the unaccountable sources, it is essential to elaborate the mechanisms for fact-checking. Personally, I consider the current hostility in Ethiopia, partly, as the aftermath of trusting biased opinions and acting out the pretentious bravado of social media personalities.
The connection of media and government was supposedly broken following the legitimacy and freedom granted to private media. But for many decades now, the private media has failed to play their ‘watchdog’ role as they increasingly became the voice of capital and interest groups. All over the world, commercialism has tarnished private media by making them allies of moneyed corporates, only driven by their attractiveness to advertisements. The state media, on the other hand, tried to disguise their true nature by posing as ‘public’ media, but their faithfulness to the state showed their real nature. The public has shaky trust in such media as they are owned and rightly suspected of echoing official government claims. This global situation threatens the future of journalism. In our country, it poses a further threat to freedom considering its history.
In Ethiopia, both the state and private media share the blame for a growing public distrust. From its inception, the state media in Ethiopia served the authoritarian state, be it under imperial rule, socialist regime, or autocratic governments. Every protest against feudalism by the underprivileged classes was squashed by royal guards, and the state media always justified it. The mindful students who demanded ‘land to the tiller’ and social democracy were jailed or gunned down. The state media labeled them the enemies of the state. The protests against corruption and election fraud by a government that claimed to be democratic were met with crackdowns. The state media still echoed official statements without fail. The supposedly private media either supported the government or chose silence by broadcasting entertainment shows while innocent people were terrorized. The few exceptions who spoke the truth were either jailed or exiled. Ironically, the same media that labeled protestors as mobs now championed them as freedom fighters following the change in government. Examples abound, but I will stop here trusting the memory of my readers. Basically, the mainstream media forfeited public trust when they knowingly defended falsehood and made a mockery of truth. As state and private media evolved into Siamese twins, the public took its trust elsewhere.
Public trust is hard to lose and harder to gain once lost. Mainstream media enjoyed public trust for centuries, partly because an alternative was in want. But time and again, they seemed to enjoy their information monopoly and consider the public as dimwitted enough to be manipulated. But suddenly social media presented the alternative the public had awaited. The advantage is evident when considered in relation to deceitful conventional outlets, yet the disadvantage is also immensely felt upon considering the role of personal interests and unaccountability. It is a victory to personal autonomy but it is also a peril to naive multitudes who are prone to act out every whimsical opinion.
Let us dwell on the positive for a moment. As the linguist/social critic Noam Chomsky argues, The monopoly of mainstream media has mostly helped to ‘manufacture consent’ of the majority for state-level crimes. This perennial brainwashing was broken with the advent of social vanguards who publicly revealed the truth through unconventional media platforms. In this category belong the journalists whose voice was silenced by editorial policies and individuals who can’t stand injustice. While we must praise and protect these heroes, we must remain vigilant of the pretentious ones who operate with ulterior motives.
Every popularity is not a mark of greatness; neither is justice an unalterable trait in individuals. I hold these maxims in dealing with social media heroes. In the republic of social media, almost everything is allowed and almost everyone gains followers. Being racist, sexist or chauvinistic will only increase followers in the virtual world as there are plenty of them roaming it. There are also millions who simply enjoy viewing the battle of polarized opinions. On the other hand, there are real freedom fighters who sadly lost their track and ended up bitter sentimentalist for a single cause at the expense of all others. Among this flock are also those who seemed to stand for justice while they were only defenders of a racial or any other segregated cause. The worst are the YouTubers who would post anything as long as it attracts enough people to generate money. Ethiopians at home and abroad are currently engaged in social media heroism. I am tempted to mention names, but never will because it only adds to their popularity. To them, there is no such thing as bad publicity. In the final analysis, some are indispensable in delivering truth while others are a novel deadly virus, and being a discerning audience is our great task.
I will conclude with a few remarks on fact-checking. When we are dealing with vital information which informs our decisions or causes an uproar, we must first check its reliability. For instance, the Ethiopian political climate is partly guided by social media and the reaction that follows. As information has the power to rally angry and murderous crowds. I just wish each of us first take the time to consider the validity of our information. It is common to find the fact presented in stark difference and bravado by social media personalities. Instead of accepting them, it is rational and wise to delay action until we certify its credibility. Vaclav Havel, the author and former president of the Czech Republic who opposed totalitarianism, emphasizes that the only weapon against falsehood is truth because illusions vanish in the face of concrete reality. Thus, we must rely on the power of truth and dig deep before forming our opinions, which then guide our actions. This is no easy task, as both mainstream and social media are susceptible to falsehood. But this is the more reason for us to pursue concrete reality and truth.
Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for Ezega.com. He can be reached through this form.
Other articles by Abel Merawi:
Even Monkeys Can Use Smart Techs
Adwa – Triumph of Unassailable Humanity
Democracy and Democratic Institutions
Democracy and Democratic People
Paideia or Deep Education
Educational Purpose: Good Citizenry Vs Rational Autonomy
Crowd Leaders as National Enemies of Ethiopia
Ethiopia Under the Threat of Crowd Mentality
Conformist Realism in Ethnic Federalism
Alternatives to National Identity
Ethiopia in Conflict - Part II: A National Stand for Unity
Ethiopia in Conflict - Part I: EPRDF and the Creation of Ethnic Division
Forms of Human Violence (Part II)
Forms of Human Violence (Part I)
The ‘Having’ Mentality
Free but in Chain, Part IV: Personal Bondage
Free but in Chain. Part III: Economic Bondage
Free but in Chain. Part II: Social Bondage
Free but in Chain. Part I: Bondage of Worldview
Unemployment and Economic Growth in Ethiopia
The Underestimated Human Ignorance
Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part II)
Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part I)
Capitalism Becoming an Impediment to Morality
Ketman: Living in Disguise to Gain Acceptance
The System and the 'Criminal'
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Our Online World
Fame Mistaken for Expertise
The Heavy Burden of Healthcare Workers
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The Plague by Albert Camus: Fiction Becomes Reality!
History of Pandemics in Ethiopia
Human Struggle Against Pandemics: Historical Perspective
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Rule of Law for a Free Society
The Origins of Law
Determinants of Market Value: Part II
Determinants of Market Value: Part I
Your life Matters Too
Manifestations of Artistic Expression
Achievements vs Natural Accidents
The Grip of Sacrifice
Injustice is Never Justifiable
Education Demands of the Future
Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future
The Shift From Racism to Culturism
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Culture and Market Forces
Seeking Cosmic Justice
National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations
Are We Truly Free?
Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy
Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group
The Value of Work
The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System
Intellectuals and the People
Where Are Our Pathfinders?
The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders
The Truth Behind Humanity
The Seven Virtues
The Seven Deadly Sins
What is the right thing to do?
Building National Identity
Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change
Living the Truth as a Human Being
Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others
The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them
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