Smartphones have made us dangerous. It is estimated there are more than five billion mobile devices in use today. Studies predict that by 2025, 70 % of internet users will only use smartphones to access the Internet.
Every day, millions worldwide use their smartphones to take photos, make videos, or write texts documenting their reality and then share them on social media. Until recently, journalism and filmmaking were difficult to break into, let alone make a decent living in, without proper training or connections. Now, with almost everyone having a smartphone and access to social media, anyone can be a pseudo-journalist or pseudo-filmmaker; herein lies the danger. Anyone can have the power to publish content, be it news items, opinions, videos, graphics, music, etc. and create a following. Not only had our information consumption experience changed significantly, but who is creating the content we are consuming has also significantly changed.
There’s a saying, “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.” The first thing the Internet devoured was journalism, the acquiring, processing, and publishing of information. When you’re holding a smartphone—a hand-held mass communication tool—you’re holding a press.
A tweet from Tom Harrington (@cbctom) has as much journalistic weight as a tweet from a 23-year-old Starbucks barista who filmed police violently arresting a homeless man outside their store.
It’s often Ukrainian citizens and enterprising individuals, rather than mainstream journalists, who capture what’s happening in Ukraine through their photos and videos. Similarly, Turkey’s artillery bombardment on Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region being recorded by civilians.
In the digital age, anyone can be a journalist; actually, anyone can claim any title they want. Having a journalism degree or being affiliated with a news organization is no longer necessary. Smartphones enable us to record and broadcast “news happenings” to a public increasingly reliant on social media to find news and information (READ: opinions) that confirms their beliefs.
The same holds true for filmmaking. Smartphone-made films can be uploaded to countless platforms. No film distributor is necessary. No need to attend film school.
Thanks to smartphones empowering its owner with the ability to instantly broadcast worldwide and being able to self-identify as a “journalist,” “filmmaker,” “writer,” “photographer,” “graphic artist,” “recording artist,” or “radio (podcast) personality” to name a few of the professions now available to everyone, is merely a matter of semantics. No one is qualified, and everyone is qualified.
With a smartphone in your pocket, you can become Canada’s most-read restaurant critic. Want to be a travel reporter? Travel and blog with your smartphone. Want to be a nature documentary filmmaker? Using your smartphone, film anthills or Japanese beetles mating in your local park and upload it to YouTube. (Fun fact: 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.)
Nobody expects your content to be perfect; it’s understood it’ll be shaky. What’s important is that your content resonates with people. Connecting with people is the key to a successful social media strategy. There is no exact science to determine what will resonate with the general population or what will offend people beyond the obvious, which is why most social media learning is done by simply putting stuff out there and seeing what happens.
Yes, I’m saying social media is a game of “hit and miss.”
The value of having a measurable audience to speak to is obvious to anyone with even a passing understanding of social media. (If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?) Therefore, you must offer something different to stand out among celebrities and influencers on social media platforms. This is why social media posts are becoming more outrageous. Much of the content posted on social media by those seeking recognition as a journalist, filmmaker, podcaster, singer, or whatever, is created to gain attention, aka clickbait, and generate the two most sought-after Internet metrics, clicks and views.
Back in the day, when there were only four or five TV channels, the television station didn’t really have to worry about you clicking away; they just made the best shows they could. Then cable came, and the choices multiplied tenfold. Cable, paired with a remote, which meant the viewer didn’t have to get up to change channels, forced television stations to offer content that kept you glued to the tube. Today, globally, there’s an infinite number of social media platforms providing every type of content (pictures, videos, news, fiction, information, opinions, movies, podcasts) imaginable, vying for your attention.
As social media multiplies, competition for our attention also multiplies. Thus, content considered “successful” isn’t created to deliver unbiased news, beauty, art or even entertainment, but rather to trigger a response. Not surprisingly, the easiest emotion to trigger is anger and outrage. (Most outrage these days is virtue-signalling, but some is sincere.)
Successful online bloggers, vloggers—a person who creates and shares video content online—pseudo-journalists, pseudo-filmmakers, et al. understand the importance of curating an audience. They know a large audience will draw attention to their content who will like and share. Additionally, they consider how their content may comfort the comfortable, afflict the afflicted, or court controversy. As a result, the content they publish is often regarded as newsworthy or exposes injustices. Since they are not subjected to any editorial interference, they are free to push what they say are “creative boundaries” to succeed as a pseudo “whatever.”
Social media’s incentive structure isn’t designed to amplify accurate content. Instead, it’s designed to amplify and spread attention-grabbing content, creating an “attention economy,” leading to people creating content that is more likely to grab your attention than be accurate or unbiased.
Media outlets used to decide when and how you would receive the news; the Internet has changed that. Now you don’t receive the news on TV at 6:00 PM or 9:00 PM, with the morning or evening newspaper edition, or on the half-hour on a news radio station. Instead, 24/7, social media delivers the news and plenty of passionate differing opinions from conventional news sources, citizens who were on “the scene,” and self-identified “journalists.” Thanks to the Internet, journalists no longer occupy an elite, authoritative platform from which to broadcast to a captive audience.
While I blame social media for many of our current social ills, social media has one undeniable positive, albeit a double-edged sword. Social media provides platforms for all voices to be heard. Unfortunately, we’re increasingly abusing this amazing digital soapbox; such is the human ego’s need to be heard, recognized, be right, and feel entitled to self-identify as it wishes the world to see it. Is there a better medium than social media—the Internet—to be whatever “pseudo” we want to project?
30 years ago, would any of the pseudo professions I mentioned have been possible? Not long ago, to legitimately call yourself a filmmaker, you would have needed a distributor. A novelist would need a publisher. A musician would need to get a record deal. A journalist would need to be affiliated with a news organization. The education and work required to genuinely be part of the professions I just mentioned are no longer necessary. After reading this article, you can pick up your smartphone, take pictures of your coffee table, upload them on Flicker, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever platform you choose, and call yourself a photographer.
With a smartphone and a few choice words in your social media bio(s), you can call yourself anything, from writer to musician to documentary filmmaker to photographer. Being able to self-identify as whatever we want to self-identify as raises the question: Is this pseudo-professional culture being created another harmful consequence of social media?
Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto. You can follow Nick on Twitter and Instagram @Nkossovan
Nick Kossovan / Letters to Editor / Bizim Anadolu / Notre Anatolie / August 25th, 2022