Labeling Government Influence: A Critique of YouTube’s New Policy

“Any reasonable definition of propaganda would include the fact that disinformation is very often produced for and by private interests.”

From Clay Hurand

christian-wiediger-598840-unsplash

The importance of news media to democracy in the 21st century is difficult to overstate. Democracy emerges from public discourse, and the terms that constitute that public discourse are in large part brought forth and defined by mass media. It is therefore that media literacy, which is a discerning, and critical relationship to news, is essential to a functioning democracy. Media literacy does not simply involve fact-checking, it involves an understanding of ways in which information and political narratives are shaped by special interests, ideology, and power.

Social media is an increasingly popular means of receiving news. Learning and education alone account for over a billion views a day on YouTube. This means that social media platforms are becoming more responsible for the state of our political discourse, and therefore our democracy. So, when tech companies that run news-bearing platforms decide to start media literacy campaigns, it is of the utmost importance that they get it right.

At the beginning of 2018, YouTube rolled out a labeling system targeting content funded by governments in what appears to be a knee-jerk response to public outrage over the Russia-Gate scandal. News outlets such as RT, Al Jazeera, and PBS now sport warning labels beneath their content. YouTube’s new labeling system should be viewed as a harbinger of the blunders that are likely to come as big-tech corporations begin taking responsibility for promoting media literacy.

YouTube reveals its media literacy-myopia through two assumptions that undergird its labeling system. The first assumption is that the potential for propaganda or disinformation comes only from government or publicly sponsored content. That YouTube is making this assumption is evidenced by the fact that their labeling system exempts all private and or corporate-sponsored content. The second assumption, which is required to make the first, is that there is a rigidly-dualistic relationship between private and public spheres in the United States; a worldview that upon even the most superficial interrogation degrades into mere fantasy.

Regarding its new labeling system, YouTube has stated that its goal “is to equip users with additional information to help them better understand the sources of news content that they choose to watch on YouTube,” and that it will do so by labeling “videos uploaded by news broadcasters that receive some level of government or public funding.” YouTube also states that doing so is not a comment “on the publisher’s or video’s editorial direction or a government’s editorial influence.”

YouTube does not go into much more detail about the reasoning behind this policy. For example, they do not state what is significant about “government or public funding” and why videos that are publicly-funded even deserve a label. YouTube claims that it is not making a comment “on the publisher’s or video’s editorial direction or a government’s editorial influence,” despite that being the inherent function of the label. YouTube is contradicting itself, basically stating: “we are not commenting on a government’s editorial influence, but we are warning you that such influence could be present.” A spokesperson for PBS publicly criticized YouTube’s policy insisting that US government influence on PBS programming is prohibited by an internal statute. PBS spoke out against the policy most likely because the only reasonable inference to make from the labeling system is that “government or public funding,” to YouTube, signifies the potential for state-influence.

The problem with this is that by only warning viewers about state-funded content, YouTube is making the false assumption that propaganda or disinformation originates only from governments or from the public sector. YouTube does not outright state that, but by only warning viewers about state-funded outlets and not private ones, they are implicitly taking that position. Any reasonable definition of propaganda would include the fact that disinformation is very often produced for and by private interests. Boeing’s anti-union propaganda campaign on YouTube is just one of many examples of propaganda that emerges from the private sphere. Apparently, to YouTube, Boeing’s propaganda campaign does not warrant a label of any kind.

The chief problem of YouTube’s labeling system is that it depends on the implicit and utterly myopic assumption that “propaganda happens here (in the public sphere), but not here (in the private sphere).” Beyond this flaw, YouTube’s labels are wholly inconsistent even on the limited grounds that they have established. If potential government influence is what is at stake here, then there is a variety of content that has yet to be labeled.

In 2005 when The News Corporation acquired Fox Entertainment, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, a powerful member of the Saudi Royal family, became the company’s second largest shareholder. Upon this acquisition, Prince Alwaleed’s shareholder status transitioned from the ownership of non-voting stocks to voting stocks, meaning that Alwaleed was given direct power over the News Corporation’s governance and therefore the direction of the company. Alwaleed’s status in the News Corporation could certainly lead the public, and YouTube, to reasonably infer that he could have used his position to serve the interests of the Saudi Government. It can therefore be argued that if PBS deserves a label despite their prohibition of government-editorial influence by statute, then all of the content produced by Fox News while Alwaleed owned a significant portion of the News Corporation ought to be labeled as well.

Another blatant inconsistency in Youtube’s labeling system is that they have yet to label any videos on the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ YouTube channel. The BBG is a US Government agency that operates several pro-US media outlets abroad. Thus far, Youtube has begun labeling content coming from BBG operated news platforms such as Radio Free Asia, yet they have not labeled one video on BBG’s actual channel, including a video advertising for a BBG operated news organization in the Middle East called the Middle East Broadcasting Network, and a video about protests in Iran.

The BBG itself exemplifies the increasingly blurred lines between public and private spheres in the United States, especially in the realm of news media. For example, Rex Tillerson, while he was the CEO of Exxon, became the ex officio board member of BBG in 2004 shortly after the US invasion of Iraq. Currently, the BBG board of directors touts several pro-corporate board members. For example, the current chairman of the board of the BBG is Kenneth Weinstein, former head of the Heritage Foundation’s “Government Reform Program” (“Government reform” in Heritage Foundation-speak means the elimination of the parts of government serving the public interest). Beyond an analysis of the BBG, the mere fact of the pervasiveness of regulatory capture or the domination of the organs of US government by corporate power renders Youtube’s myopic sense of the public/private dichotomy, which constitutes the logical basis of their labeling system, completely untenable.

If YouTube actually wants to start a media literacy campaign they ought to take the following steps:

• State a clear and transparent basis to the reasoning behind their labeling system.
• Hire qualified people such as journalism scholars and propaganda historians to create a labeling system that accurately reflects the influence of power on media, rather than simply linking viewers to a Wikipedia page.
• Stage public events and conversations about how big tech and social media platforms can help facilitate media literacy and uphold democratic values.

YouTube does deserve some praise. They are currently seeking to better their labeling system by asking for public feedback. If YouTube wants to take responsibility for upholding democratic values such as media literacy and a free press, it is important that they continue to engage and to respond to the public. My feedback, as I demonstrated, is that Youtube’s effort at a media literacy campaign fails terribly in terms of consistency. If it ought to exist at all, Youtube’s labeling system needs a lot of rethinking and revision.


Clay Hurand

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Organizer, writer, spray artist, and Voices from the Grassroots podcast host.


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The Pitfalls of Internet Media

I wrote most of this article weeks ago, but I stumbled on this business just yesterday and I thought it illustrated the problems I’m discussing here brilliantly.  Apparently the New York Times edited an online article for content after it was posted to completely change the tone.

The Young Turks: New York Times Edits Pro-Bernie Article Into Hit Piece

Rolling Stone: How the ‘New York Times’ Sandbagged Bernie Sanders

The Public Editor responds in the New York Times by saying, “They’re right, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

Since the Public Editor is supposed to be a watchdog for the public trust to insure honesty in media, I guess it’s okay to completely manipulate a story like this.  This is an acceptable standard for our most trusted sources in mainstream media.  And this is how they’re handling the move to get online.*

Globe Molecule by Dawn Hudson (public domain image).
Globe Molecule by Dawn Hudson (public domain image).

In my article from two weeks ago I discussed how the internet is threatening the supremacy of corporate media, particularly broadcast media, along with how this is forever altering the way we do politics.  But the halcyon days of net neutrality are already over.  There are ways in which large corporations are manipulating the internet to their advantage.

The process of media convergence is resulting in a small handful of very large companies being able to control not only what you can watch or read, but your internet access and your phone and cell phone services as well.  Not only that; they are learning how to manipulate search engine results, public perceptions, and social media to their advantage.  Only by being aware of these tactics, and in some cases fighting their lobbyists in the political and legal arenas, can we hope to maintain this precious resource.

Let’s point out some of the problems and discuss solutions:

Problem: Favouritism in search engines

Search engines list the most frequented sites on a given topic first.  In these situations, corporate media still has the advantage because they still have a reputation that encourages a lot of people to go to them first.  Most of us glance at the first five or six listings (because the human brain can only count five objects at once in a glance) and then choose the one we like the sound of best.  If we’re really literate or really interested maybe we read two or three.

Solution: Make sure you skim down the rest of the page, maybe a couple of pages, and try to read at least one differing opinion from your own with an open mind.  And never forget that Google is a large corporation.

Problem: News aggregates

Most of us get our internet news from aggregates such as Huffington Post.  They use software that selects the most popular articles from the most-visited sources.  As a result, they give you the same information that the first six links on Google give you; and they have their biases as well.

Solution: Same as above.  Try to find an opposing viewpoint to the one your favourite news aggregate offers you.

Problem: Information overload

Because there’s so much information out there we often don’t spend the time we should to use our discernment.  Furthermore, knowing this, media outlets, corporations and political parties flood the internet with articles and links that support their bias, which makes it look as though their bias is the most prevalent opinion. The more money available to a given group, the better they are at this.

Solution: Don’t fall for it.  Even if the opinion in question is the prevailing one, that doesn’t make it the “correct” opinion anyway.  Double check the data and decide for yourself.

Problem: Expert opinions

Groups with political motivations will try to lend their viewpoint legitimacy by enlisting experts to support that viewpoint.  But money talks even among “experts,” as anyone who has ever been through a civil lawsuit could tell you.

Solution: Consider the source.  A scientist working for Exxon is not going to support the climate change data.  An avowed atheist is going to ignore any information that supports divine powers.  Pharmaceutical companies are going to discredit any medicinal source that they can’t manufacture and patent.  Economists of the Koch Brothers sponsored Fraser Institute are not going to support economic models that don’t benefit the Koch brothers and their ilk.

Problem: Misleading and clickbait headlines

Most of us don’t read whole articles.  We read the headlines and then skim the text.  As a result we acquire an oversimplified version of the facts, and we miss subtle caveats or even contradictory information contained in the rest of the article.  Journalists writing to the direction of company heads with particular political viewpoints sometimes know this and use it to deliberately downplay facts that contradict those viewpoints, while at the same time claiming a lack of bias because their articles do contain those facts; they’re just written in the internet equivalent of small print at the end.

Solution: If you’re going to read an article, read all of it before casting judgment.

Problem: Siloing and polarization

Because there are so many choices available to us in internet media we often only read the information that supports our pre-existing viewpoints, rather than trying to get a whole picture.  As a result we often find ourselves in echo chambers that gradually lose touch with the big picture.  Also, journalists supporting a bias often deliberately write articles to encourage us to divide into camps without considering individual issues and situations.

Solution: Again, read contradictory articles.  Or find an online friend who supports political views that you don’t that you can have a respectful debate with.

Problem: Copyright laws

Did you know that when an American article posted a clip from the Daily Show, no Canadian could watch it unless we wanted to watch the whole episode?  Copyright laws are applied unequally, depending on the desires of certain groups.  “Fair Use” is actually subject to individual interpretation, so corporations will often enforce their copyright when a site uses their clip or photos in a way that doesn’t support their viewpoint when they wouldn’t if it did; or governments with particular agendas (such as the right wing Harper administration) will make it more difficult for media that disagrees with their preferred narrative to circulate opposing viewpoints by unequally applying copyright claims.

Solution: This is a tricky one because it’s so hard to prove.  A copyright holder has every legal right to enforce their copyright however they wish.  But perhaps small copyright holders should consider the broader implications of draconian copyright enforcement with a view to the long term, rather than buying into the narrative that claims that such laws protect small artists as much as it does big business.

Problem: Internet censorship

Lobbyists working for large media companies, such as Sony, continue to push for legislation that censors what is available on the internet and to whom.  The United Kingdom has been cited as one of the enemies of the internet by Reporters Without Borders largely due to their ISP filtering defaults.  Only the Constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech and vocal protests against anything that limits that freedom have thus far managed to keep lobbyists from successfully censoring the internet in the United States enough to make that list; though the pretenses of enforcing copyright and preventing cyberbullying have weakened those rights.

Solution:  There are only three; petition, protest, and politicize.

Problem: Corporate internet marketing and privacy

Most major internet and social media companies now collect demographic data on us whether we want them to or not.  So do our cell phone providers.  They claim that they do this to provide us with information and advertising suited to our preferences.  In reality this simply increases the siloing and also allows corporations and governments to routinely violate our privacy, even if that’s not exactly what it was intended for.

Solution:  Fight this uninvited snooping any way that you can.  Protest, lobby, and always edit your privacy options, no matter how complicated that is.

Problem:  Obsessive, rude and professional commentors

Did you know that political parties have begun paying people who (at least say that they) share their views to comment on news stories online?  This, along with some genuinely focused people, is why you can’t read an article about sexism in politics without someone ranting about political correctness and feminists, and why you can’t read an article on climate change without some hothead sputtering their defense of oil production.  This makes it sound like more people support such opinions than actually do, which gives said viewpoints the appearance of greater legitimacy.

Also, the toxic nature of internet commentary, fueled by a human tendency to be nastier and more rude to anonymous people they don’t know than they would be to someone they were speaking to in person, creates a confrontational environment where people become more concerned about arguing with people than the issue at hand.

Solution: Don’t comment to engage with commentors.  Better yet, don’t read the comments section at all.  If you wish to engage with the article’s author in any way, be it positive, negative, to ask a question or to provide information, read quickly through all of the comments to see if your issue has already been addressed and then post what you need to post.

Problem: Pretty does not equal accurate

It is human nature to listen to people we find attractive more than people we don’t, and we tend to believe that a more professional look to a site means that the site is more legitimate.  But of course that’s utter nonsense.

Solution: Read between the lines and don’t dismiss something, or someone, just because it isn’t visually appealing.

ProblemOpinions are like . . .

Anybody can say anything they want on the internet.  But often the opinions offered are unsubstantiated, backed by logical fallacies, or unsupported by real data.

Solution:  This problem obviously affects other forms of media too so don’t let that stop you.  But look for logical fallacies and patronize sites that cite their sources over ones that don’t.  Also, consider who is doing the speaking.  Obviously if someone works for the oil industry they probably want to downplay information about the receding ice caps or pollution in Beijing.

Looking to the Future

We have no idea of our own power.  We need to take the information we’re learning online and do the only three things we really have the power to do with it; petition, protest, and politicize.  We are the hope of the future.

The internet is changing the game and providing great freedom of information.  But we have to be willing and able to use it, and we have to use our discernment in order to benefit from it.  Politicians who want public support in the future will have to learn how to navigate the internet with aplomb; and we will have to learn how not to be manipulated if we want to reap its benefits.

*Please note: I include this information only to illustrate my point. I tend to follow stories on Bernie Sanders because I like him and I am disturbed by how the media is treating him, but I would not presume to endorse any Presidential candidate. I’m not from the US and it’s not my right to tell US citizens who they should vote for as their President.

Millennials & the Revolution of Politics

Right now in the United States, Super Tuesday is just a couple of days away.  It’s pretty amazing that I know that.  I have never paid such close attention to American politics before.  I never cared that much; not until it came down to the actual Republican vs. Democrat.  In general we, your neighbours to the North, breathe more easily when it’s the latter.

But right now there’s a political revolution going on that has broad implications in both of our countries.  There’s a huge generational divide.  It’s the generation we call the Millennials.  They’re changing how everything works.  In current North American politics, both in the recent Canadian federal election and in the upcoming American Presidential election, there has been a visible, undeniable generational split in opinions at the polls, and it has made, and is making, a significant difference.  Millennials are the reason that the Conservative Harper regime in Canadian government was finally overthrown, and Millennials are changing the face of American politics even as you read this.  Nothing in national democratic politics is ever going to be the same again.

Why?  Is it that Millennials are creative and innovative?  Well, to some degree that’s true; the younger generation is almost always more flexible and more willing to try new things than the older generation.  Is it that they realize how fixed the system is and they are desperate for change?  Well, that’s partially true too.

But more than anything, I think it comes down to one simple thing: Boomers watch TV.  And Millennials don’t.

The Problem with Corporate Media

We in democratic capitalist societies labour under the delusion that the media is the Fifth Estate, which exists as an independent watchdog to inform us on the benevolence, and abuses, of those in power.  The media, we believe, reports on events in a way that delivers the news with forethought, expert consultation, and a fair, if not entirely unbiased, lens.  My parents still share this subconscious assumption.  But it’s not true.  It’s never been true.

Corporate media is, of course, interested in furthering the interests of things that benefit corporations.  In general, they support right wing policies because right wing governments support bigger corporate tax breaks, trickle-down economics, low wages, and lack of regulation.  It’s only common sense, really.  These things benefit any large corporation, and I don’t think there’s any denying that broadcast media is entirely ruled by large corporations.   What you may not know is just how large they are.

You would think that print media would be different; the last bastion of the independent journalist.  But again, you would be mistaken.  Almost every major newspaper in Canada is owned by two companies.  That’s right, just two.  They are Sun Media and Postmedia.  How big do you think a corporation has to be to own so many newspapers?

It didn’t used to be that way.  There was the CBC, and then there were mostly local private companies.  Until our broadcast media was partially deregulated in 2008, and again in 2011, by the Conservative government of the time.  Is it any wonder that the news seems to be favouring the right wing view more and more all the time?

Sometimes the bias is so blatant that it’s a suitable subject for ridicule.  But most of the time it is subtle; so subtle I know most people don’t notice it.  Watching coverage of the Bill C-51 protests here in Canada was most instructional for me, because I had just caught on to the tricks and so I really noticed them:

Two very different stories may be observed in the Vancouver Sun, which is a major corporate newspaper, and the Vancouver Observer, which is a somewhat respected but smaller and decidedly more left wing “alternative” media source.  Both papers are reporting on the exact same protest in the same city.  If you’d like to play along at home, I urge you to fire both of those links up in separate tabs and compare them as you read.

Our first clues as to the tack of the stories can be found in the headlines.  The editor of a paper is the one who chooses the headlines.  The Vancouver Sun headlines their story with “Vancouver protesters rally against Tories’ Bill C-51.”  Seems innocuous enough, right?  But let’s break it down a little.  First, limiting the story to Vancouver divorces it from the national movement in the minds of the readers.  Vancouver has a reputation for being a sort of “San Francisco of Canada,” and is regarded as a haven for what the right wing sees as “leftist nutbars.”  So this makes it sound like the protest is a local phenomenon.  Note, also, that the Sun is quick to call it “The Tories’ Bill.”  This demands polarization.  It makes it personal.  It suggests that anyone who might disagree with the bill is only taking exception to the then-unpopular Tories, rather than objecting to legislation which gives unsettling powers to the government. It trivializes it as “party politics.”  It’s a “nothing to see here” tactic.

In the meanwhile, the Vancouver Observer tells us that “Thousands protest Bill C-51 across Canada.”  We are meant to be alarmed.  Thousands? What is horrible enough to get “thousands” to protest?  And “across Canada?”  What could be causing such a sweeping concern?

Our next big clue is image.  The Observer has chosen an image that shows a vast sea of protesters, standing politely with their signs and listening to a speaker on a stage.  I am sure that they were trying to get as many people as possible in the shot to display how widespread the opposition to the bill is.

In the meantime, the Sun has chosen a much closer angle, so that you really have no idea how many people are at the event.  And they have also chosen a picture intended to make the protesters look as stupid as possible.  The big sign in the center of the image says, “Harper Darper,” which sounds like a child making fun of someone in the schoolyard.  If that weren’t bad enough, the most clearly-visible sign other than that one says, “Honk to defeat Happer!”  Obviously it’s a misprint, and the protester tried to correct it – you can see a black Sharpie line turning that first P into an R if you squint – but it’s difficult to see and obviously your first impression is meant to be “what a bunch of buffoons!”  You are supposed to dismiss them as “stupid left wing crazies.”

Now let’s break down the articles themselves.  Our first paragraphs set the stage nicely.  In the Sun we are told that “more than a thousand people” gathered to protest “Harper” in particular, and “the new anti-terror bill” by extension.  Okay, yes, there were more than a thousand people.  The Observer tells us that there were actually about a thousand more people than a thousand people, which is a total of two thousand.  So the Sun was telling the truth, but the implication minimizes things just a little.  Also, the Sun is letting us know that the protesters are protesting Harper because they don’t like him; not the proposed legislation because it’s objectionable.

In the Observer, our first paragraph tells us that about two thousand people “descended on the streets” to “express frustration with the federal government’s proposed anti-terror bill.”  So in this key sentence we are told a) there are a lot more people out there than the Sun was saying there were; b) they are frustrated with the federal government, not any party or person in particular; and c) that the bill is still a proposed bill, not something that is already law.

It seems like it’s a conspiracy.  But it really isn’t.  It’s the natural result of the corporate system of ownership; reporters making subtle changes to their pitched articles to make them palatable to their editors, who must then make them palatable to the company management, usually passing through several layers of bureaucratic stratification in between.  And ultimately, the paper is printed to please the boss, who likes things that benefit corporations just fine.

Most of Canada’s newspapers endorsed Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the last election despite plummeting popularity; the ones who didn’t supported mostly the Conservative Party with Harper’s resignation as a caveat.  People couldn’t understand it.  But Postmedia ordered all of their subsidiaries to endorse the Conservatives; which is actually a traditional owner’s prerogative.  In other words, every media company that has ever existed has a bias.  And they are expected to.

This is where publicly-owned media, run properly, can provide an alternative view and thus widen the lens we are given to look at the state of things; but even that has its problems.  Because the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is a Crown Corporation, meaning that the Canadian government is the primary shareholder, there are limits to the powers of the CEO and the Board of Directors.  As a result, a significant faction within the CBC, angered by the Conservative appointments and the reduced budget, supported – almost downright campaigned for – the Liberal Party and our current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.  But we need to understand their bias as well; the Liberal Party promised all kinds of things to the CBC as part of their campaign platform, including a lot more funding.  Thus, even in Canada’s nominally non-partisan public media company, every time we heard about the New Democratic Party or its leader Tom Mulcair, it was to deride and discredit their campaign promises and to make Mulcair look as foolish as possible, with photos seemingly selected for the purpose.  And that was regardless of which mainstream media company was reporting on the election.

But even publicly-owned broadcasting is not safe.  The CBC, long regarded as a public resource with a decidedly left-wing approach (and it used to be) was gutted completely by Stephen Harper in his last couple of years as Prime Minister.  He cut its funding, fired most of its executives, and appointed a whole bunch of his Conservative cronies to significant positions.  Justin Trudeau’s attempt to fix some of this has been actively stymied by tactics from these appointees that look a lot like crazy Republican stunts to me.  (Incidentally, when a government changes hands, requests for appointees to step down like this are a normal, expected part of the system; which of course, the current CBC isn’t telling us.)

Things like this have already been done to the BBC several years ago and are now firmly entrenched.

It’s an interesting point because I see the American media doing the exact same thing to Senator Bernie Sanders that the Canadian media did to the New Democrats, for the exact same reason; corporations hate social democracy.  Social democracies limit corporate powers and increase wages.  Social democracies believe in what’s best for all of the people, not just a select few.  I think it’s a safe bet that the mainstream media will never show us an unbiased view of policies that might put more limits on corporations; which is why so many people seem to think that Mr. Sanders’ “socialist” policies are “unrealistic.”  Even my parents.  The funny thing about this is that most of Sanders’ platform is the way Canada did things, from the 60s right up to the Harper administration, and it worked just fine.

There’s another concern with corporate media.  The media makes a lot of money on political campaign ads, as politicians try to make their messages heard; and also on election coverage, as corporations backing particular parties or candidates sponsor programs that feature those candidates.  And the more political tension they create, the more money they make; which is probably why every political campaign is portrayed as a horse race, even when it’s not.

How the Internet is Transforming Politics

In the early days of media, there were newsletters and newspapers.  Media was a lot less centralized and thus, people read what they wanted to read.  Since there were a couple of dozen New York papers, you just read the one you preferred; or maybe a handful, if you were really well informed.  When it came to politics, you read the papers that supported your political view; for instance, if you were a socialist, you read the socialist papers.

Slowly, larger papers began buying up the smaller papers, and so your options of what to read, and thus the viewpoint you were shown, gradually diminished.  Why did the New York Times become so respected?  Because everybody read it.

We have seen how that sort of centralization reduces the scope of the information lens so that we only hear what the corporate media wants us to hear.  But that’s changing.  There are alternative sources of media emerging; blogs and journals like ours, for example.  And the reason is – you guessed it – the internet.

Right now, political blogging is in its early growing stages.  We are graduating from a few random commentors to semi-professional small blogs and YouTube channels.  And the Millennials, having realized that the food that they’re being fed is (un)liberally flavoured with Corporatist propaganda and always tastes the same, have started seeking out those alternate sources.

Or so it would seem.  The truth is actually simpler than that, if I might cast a pall of cynicism on this ray of hope with an intention of helping us to make use of it in the most efficient possible way.

Millennials don’t watch TV anymore.  They don’t read newspapers.  Between their computers and their cell phones they go online for everything; their information, their entertainment, their social outlets.

So the fact that they’re discovering the alternate media is a cosmic accident, really.  And the only reason why the alternate sources are doing so well is that we’ve been here longer.  Fortunately the large media corporations were initially more interested in fighting or discrediting internet media than they were in using it. But that’s changing too.

Before you dismiss this as a fad, it’s clear that this has changed the way Millennials think.  They are perhaps the most literate generation that has ever existed.  Because they surf the web they know things that previous generations do not.  Because of Google Translate they can talk to people in other countries even if they don’t understand a word of the language.  And thus, it has never been so easy to find like-minded individuals and organize along ideological lines as opposed to geography.

More than that, most Millennials have probably experienced a situation in which they were humiliated on social media for not fact-checking a link or a meme.  Whether this or something else is the reason, Millennials who are politically aware check their facts.  They look up the definition of “social democracy” on Wikipedia.  They Google any statistics they are offered.  They use Snopes to confirm or denounce rumours and scandals.  You can’t just give them the facts you want them to hear, cherry-picked for your convenience.  They will double check.

As a result, we are beginning to see huge ideological divides between generations and it’s starting to make a difference.  Why did Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party win the Canadian federal election?  Because two significant demographics supported him almost unilaterally; First Nations Canadians, and young voters.

Note that these are both traditionally underrepresented groups in the political landscape.  But this time they overcame their reluctance to engage with a system so obviously stacked against them and came to the polls.  This, despite deliberate changes in election laws, such as gerrymandering electoral ridings and requiring proper picture ID as well as a voter registration card to vote – a tactic almost never done in Canadian history and obviously disadvantaging the young and the poor.  And as a result, our First Nations and our youth changed the course of Canadian history.

We are seeing this in American politics as well.  Would Bernie Sanders be doing so well against the likes of former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton if it weren’t for the massive support he’s receiving from America’s youth?  Millennials hear Sanders using the language of the Occupy Movement and his call to fight the 1%, and they are protesting the system with their ballots.  It is even starting to affect demographics that were believed to be unassailable, such as creating a generational divide in the black vote.

Will this factor change the course of this American election?  It already has.  Even among the Republican voters, nobody expected Donald Trump to do as well as he has.  In a way he’s the right wing equivalent of Bernie Sanders; he sounds like a rebel against the system.  He’s just going about it in a way that openly reveals the fascist heart of Corporatism.

Either way, this is likely the last U.S. Presidential campaign that will be so strongly influenced by the mainstream media.  It’s a whole new world out here.

But the battle isn’t over yet.  The halcyon days of net neutrality are already behind us, and there are ways in which large corporations are manipulating the internet to their advantage.  Also, the way in which we access the internet and social media corrals us into echo chambers which entirely lose touch with anyone who doesn’t share our views.  I will address these issues in my next article.

 

*I have chosen to use the gender-inclusive singular “they” as my default general pronoun in this article.