Jessica Williams – Writer and Television Producer, Author of 50 Facts that Change the World

“They are having an election there at the end of this week. Watching how the mainstream media... I don’t even know what you’d call it. It’s very weird. There seems to be this massive culture of forwarding around a lot of stuff. They still send around a lot of Internet circular jokes but more and more, it seems to be about politics. There’s a lot of people sending around stuff – vicious campaigns against a particular candidate or whatever – that is poorly sourced. When you actually go to look and see where these things have come from, these supposed websites in the US or Canada that have been writing such and such a thing... and when you go to them, they are wild-eyed fanatic websites that even if they told you what the weather was, you wouldn’t want to believe it necessarily. That’s really interesting to me. I was thinking about this. People are able to get information from such a wide variety of sources and I think that we thought, for a long time, that this kind of democracy of views, particularly in the sphere of... democracy, informing yourself about issues and voting... was going to change the world. That we were all going to be way better informed. But I actually think that the reverse might be happening. I think that we are able more and more and more to choose the way we look at things. There is actually nothing actually actively challenging our points of view on anything. For example, Chardonnay socialist as I am, I probably could just live my life reading websites that totally agreed with every single thing that I think and think that I was completely well-informed. It’s bizarre. This had never really occurred to me until I saw this stuff and I was thinking, “A lot of these people don’t watch the mainstream media news outlets and that’s fair enough because they’re quite politically motivated in Brazil and not in an overt way. The political agenda is there and everybody knows it’s there, everybody knows it’s biased, they just pretend they’re impartial. So people say, “I don’t believe anything the media says about politics” but they are perfectly happy to believe these emails that people send them from bizarre sources. This has actually really made me think about the quality of information that we’re getting now and how on earth this is actually helping democracy. Maybe it’s not. Maybe what we’ve done, in some way, in allowing any view to have an equal weight of importance, we’ve let this immense genie out of the bottle where we all think we’re really well-informed and no one really is. As to how that will change the way I live, I really don’t know. I think that journalists probably should think about this. I think here in New Zealand we have possibly political apathy for maybe different reasons. How is it that we try to engage people in this stuff? How is it that we try to convince people that actually we are doing our best to keep them informed about stuff, that there isn’t a secret agenda at play, that blogs and Twitter and so on are part of a make-up of information but they are not everything. They can’t be, they shouldn’t be and why on earth would we think that they ever were? How have we gotten ourselves into this position of thinking that we’re more likely to believe something if we read it on a blog or if we read it in the Dominion Post. I don’t know. Is it even as big a problem as I think or is this just an extension of what people used to do anyway, which was not read the paper, not read the news and talk to their mates in the pub?”


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