People with dodgy views – idiots, fools and worse still, racists and bullies, used to have a much better chance of getting through the day without being discovered before social media came along. Now, thanks to the ease with which public figures can communicate with millions (via twitter) or the fact that almost everyone has a video camera in their pocket on their mobile phone – and a platform, called Youtube, to share footage with millions – things are a little more complicated.
The frequency with which scandal erupts around a misjudged tweet or an offhand comment, caught on someone’s iPhone and uploaded to Youtube, suggests that social media practically entraps people into such costly blunders with its pretty user interfaces and seemingly inconsequential virtual nature – and then the real world mess catches up with you. Last week for example, an English footballer was sacked by his club after posting a homophobic tweet in response to a TV show he was watching. I picked that example at random from my memory, but there were at least three or four others just from last week here in the UK (Ed Miliband, Diane Abbott, Tom Harris, Wojciech Szczesny etc).
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that we know better than ever what people are thinking – perhaps even to a detrimental degree – wherein thoughtless comments which people might not otherwise say in the company of others, get instantly shared with thousands. I’m not, however, here to debate the philosophical implications of all this. Instead, I’d just like to give a quick example where this insight into public figures’ real thoughts can be quite illuminating.
Rupert Murdoch has recently joined twitter and has been using the service to share his views on SOPA (which he supports fully) and piracy (which he doesn’t). His recent comments have now been excellently ‘storified’ by journalist and blogger Jeff Jarvis, who breaks down Murdoch’s rants against Google and Barack Obama (in the wake of today’s setbacks for SOPA) and illustrates the fundamental problem facing Murdoch in the internet age: he doesn’t understand the web.
Ok, so this is hardly news (there was the small matter of Murdoch’s News Corp. running Myspace, then the world’s most successful social network, into the ground) but nonetheless, since usually his personal views reach us in a highly mediated form via his spokespeople, his media outlets and his press officers, we’ve never really had as direct evidence of Murdoch’s web views as we have now.
The point is that, while we should be wary of reading too much into 140 character tweets, what is clear is that Murdoch personally does not display a huge degree of enthusiasm for the innovation that publishing industries are being forced into by the web and would prefer to merely port existing (but increasingly outdated models) over to the web – and protect them with prohibitive legislature.
Look at those tweets and ask yourself – would you invest in the man who wrote them if he came to you asking for funds for his web start-up business? Does he seem like someone who is gonna do something clever or new online?
The answer probably would be no. Murdoch doesn’t need your money anyway (he has plenty of it already in all likelihood), but what his recent tweets illustrate, for me at least, is that he is involved with the web purely out of necessity and hasn’t developed a massively sophisticated view of how the internet works. If I wanted some creative ideas and fresh views on the online publishing landscape for example, I probably wouldn’t call him.