P031: Subscribing to History

The recent events in Ferguson, MO have brought a number of issues to light. Today, I’m going to talk about the least critical of these because exactly nobody is sitting on pins and needles waiting for the next suburban white guy to give his two cents on institutionalized racism, systematic oppression, the militarization of police and the demonization of murder victims. Rather, I’m going to take a moment to talk about how the facts (incomplete as they are) are being distorted, decontextualized and cherry picked into an unrecognizable morass by our own selfish impulses.

Do not be fooled into thinking that this is a call for objectivity and ethics in reporting. That ship has sailed, and it sailed long before CNN, MSNBC and Fox News started wasting our precious cable bandwidth with their own particular brands of Yellow journalism. And shows like Last Week Tonight are brilliant, informed entertainment, but if newsy-comedians were really broadcasting the news, the Colbert Report and Daily Show wouldn’t be on break right now.

No, instead let’s take a moment and turn to David Carr’s examination about how Ferguson wasn’t on anyone’s radar until it became #Ferguson. It’s yet another piece highlighting the vibrance and immediacy of Twitter as an awareness platform and communication medium but the tone is no longer one of modern-world bewilderment. You don’t have to explain Twitter anymore, people get it. But what people, even David Carr, still don’t fully understand is that Twitter is what you make of it.

An outward-facing mirror

The old knock on Twitter was that it was super self-obsessed. The new knock on Twitter is that it is all about Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. Both of those sentiments are fairly accurate but totally incomplete. If you didn’t follow people who were tweeting about Ferguson, you might not have heard about until CNN managed to wake up. If you are a white supremacist, you probably didn’t hear about Ferguson until the story made it into that world.

And then those people made an effort to co-opt the #Ferguson and #MichaelBrown hashtags and we go around and around and around.

The Brutal Echo Chamber

Conventional wisdom states that history is written by the victors. But technology has provided us with ways to slice and dice our world so finely that every stream of information is perfectly curated to our taste and expectations. The removal of oppositional views makes for a more enjoyable day-to-day, but ignorance of the opposition yields a false sense of security. It’s not just the victors who are writing history – multiple histories are being written and rewritten and retweeted and passed down each and every day.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron