This year has proven how much we depend on social media, and it’s become more evident that the use of the platform for both enjoyment purposes and productivity purposes is becoming more merged by the day. As we are receiving more genuine information from digital media, specifically social media, audiences are struggling to determine between fact and fiction. We are only choosing to look at what we agree with, as it is increasingly becoming easier for anyone to share their thoughts and opinions using digital media. The Prime Minister posting official public updates using the ‘selfie camera’ of his iPhone would usually be seen as unprofessional, yet in a time of crisis, this behaviour is becoming increasingly acceptable and we are becoming used to receiving formal news from a less formal medium. The issue arises when consumers are also presented with untruthful stories; told within the exact same medium as the truthful and legitimate facts. As McLuhan suggested (1964) – ‘[the medium] is the ‘message’ because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association’ (ibid, 1964, p.9) and receiving formal information on an informal platform is blurring this already faint line between the real and the hyperreal.
This merger of news and entertainment has been argued by Jenkins, in discussion of ideas generated from philosopher Fiske, suggesting that ‘[the] media have fundamentally changed our social relations in contemporary society, to the point where we can no longer rely on a “news” event vs. “entertainment” event distinction. When news and entertainment blur, distinctions of truth and false, real and unreal, objective and subjective distinctions become increasingly difficult to maintain’ (Fiske, cited in Jenkins, 2016). The issue is particularity prominent today with the rising concerns of deep fakes and fake news. There are humorous examples of deep fakes, such as this video of Doanld Trump and Mike Pence singing Video Killed the Radio Star. It’s not perfect, and by any means wouldn’t trick anyone into thinking it’s real, but is a small glimpse into how close we are into achieving an indistinguishable difference between the real and the deep fake.
I made a very quick example of a deep fake using the app ‘Reface’ which lets you swap a face with a video. I put my face on shaggy from Scooby Doo, and it’s fairly realistic.
The fact is, social media is a brilliant communication tool because it allows information to circulate faster then ever before, which in an era of ever changing daily guidance, it one of the most important assets of platforms. However, if the truth can spread at a rapid speed, this also means the false information can too. Earlier in the year, there was a strange conspiracy that 5G radio towers are causing Covid-19. This could be seen as a joke by many, but when the distance from the original source of information spreads further, it is hard to determine any source of the original story; that’s if we’re lucky enough to exist in the first place. The simulacra, which is that 5G causes coronavirus, has become so far away from the truth that the actual truth is unrecognisable, which, in return, makes us believe the hyperreal myth. Digital influencers, or as Cohen would call them ‘folk devils’, are fanning these flames, escalating the situation online, making memes, remixes and posting petitions to shut down all 5G towers and cause confusion about Covdid-19. This process can be described as the Deviancy Amplification Spiral (Wilkins, 1964), where the primary deviance, being rumours around 5G causing coronavirus are spread, leading to the identification of these individuals, causing a public reaction of uncertainty around the truth of the reports. This then leads to retaliation from the so called ‘folk devils’, who continue to fight against society further increasing the moral panic itself, which finally concludes in a social reaction, through official government and health bodies confirming the claims are untruthful. However, as especially highlighted in the time of crisis, there is no foreseeable end, and the deviance of the folk devils only increases, fuelling fake news and false accusations.
Despite the truthful information, the deep fakes and the fake news, many of us primarily use social media as a way of entertainment and communication, and many brands and corporations are now using the platform as a primary way of distributing their content – it will reach the masses immediately as long as it is sharable. BuzzFeed is an excellent example of a cooperation which has reached all corners of social media, with its many different channels and its short, sharable videos. As writing this, I went onto Twitter to find some recent examples of BuzzFeed content, and right at the top of my feed sits a BuzzFeed UK post, with a short sharable video on how to reduce food waste. I don’t even follow them!
Try these easy hacks to reduce food waste AND start your own kitchen garden! pic.twitter.com/2dM4R5Paxx
— BuzzFeed UK (@BuzzFeedUK) December 10, 2020
It’s easy to see why it’s so sharable, with the upbeat music and fast paced editing. It’s 4 minutes long, which isn’t long at all, but it feels even shorter with the production style they use. Therefore, as soon as you begin watching, you’re hooked, and the more you watch the entire video, the greater chances that the algorithms will keep feeding you the content.
The Dodo is another brilliant example of a brand that posts short, lovable content. Sharing short videos of animal love stories breaks hearts around the globe, and often will appear on your news feed because someone else has shared it, liked it, commented on it, or the algorithm has shown it to you because you might like it. The thing that makes The Dodo unique is the use of subtitles and captions. It would appear to be common sense to apply subtitles to content on the internet, so even those with hearing problems can enjoy the content. Whilst this is a consideration, I think the main use of subtitles is to purely allow more people to watch it. The creators of this content understand that it is mostly consumed on public transport and public places, taxis, shops, waiting rooms, or on the toilet… all places that having the sound of chickens screaming or dogs barking coming from a phone wouldn’t be suitable. Therefore, subtitles are used, along with little graphics to represent sounds, like a squiggle for a cat’s meow, are really effective in allowing the audience to still enjoy the post and share it, wherever they are.
McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. London: Routledge
Jenkins, H (2016). From Media Matters to #blacklivesmatter: Black Hawk Hancock discusses John Fiske (Part Three). Henry Jenkins: Confessions of An ACA-FAN [blog], 31 May 2016. Available at: http://henryjenkins.org/blog/2016/05/from-media-matters-to-blacklivesmatter-black-hawk-hancock-discusses-john-fiske-part-three.html#_ftn1 [Accessed 17/03/2020]
Cohen, S. (2002) Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers (3rd ed). New York: Routledge.
Wilkins, L. (1964) Social Deviance: Social Policy, Action and Research. London: Tavistock Publications