The leap frog effect of the Covid-19 pandemic with regards to technology and the way we work and live has been in the spotlight over the past few months.

The media industry in particular has had to examine the changing landscape especially when looking at reaching audiences and looking for innovative ways to “cut through clutter”, evolve and adapt to our changing reality.

In the game of survival, there is little space for sentimentality as businesses tighten up on expenses and save as many jobs as possible. In publishing and print media we’ve had to bid farewell to esteemed magazine titles, colleagues and journalists.

In contrast, contactless media options have been in a favourable position whereby people are craving news, information, entertainment and social contact. As a result, we have also become more aware of “fake news” and what constitutes trustworthy news sources. At the centre of this concern is the power imbalance of tech giants (Facebook and Google) and the large audiences they serve with news content that is full of disinformation, misinformation and is exacerbating the issue of the polarisation of audiences. The current documentary drama, The Social Dilemma (on Netflix) takes viewers on a deep-dive into the dangerous human impact of social networking with tech experts exposing how our personal information is used to create algorithms to target audiences with advertising and news content.

This is the point where our lives can be compared to living in The Matrix. How is a film created in 1999, starring Keanu Reeves relevant to us now?

“The film describes a future in which reality perceived by humans is actually the Matrix, a simulated reality created by sentient machines in order to pacify and subdue the human population while their bodies’ heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source. Upon learning this, computer programmer “Neo” is drawn into a rebellion against the machines.” https://matrix.fandom.com/wiki/The_Matrix

How can our reality be compared to living in The Matrix? I personally try to choose credible news sources, look for underlying agendas and propaganda and filter out information that is misleading or sensationalist. But if we look at big tech companies and the threat they pose to the freedom of press i.e. how content is procured and created and the roles of journalists and truth in the age of social media, we face a dire situation.

The greatest issue is the cost and control of information. Big tech companies like Facebook and Google claim that paying for links in search and social posts would kill the free and open web. While their profits have skyrocketed from advertising revenue gained from the content created by news outlets.

The other side of the coin is that if no one invests in journalism it will be a death sentence for free press and diverse media voices.

If we look further ashore, Australia is in the process of amending laws to force tech giants to pay for content (not links) in its war to save free press. They have formed a ground-breaking agreement with Google while Facebook is still in the discussion phase. This was successful due to Rupert Murdoch (News Corp) using his significant financial and political clout.

On our home soil, the South African Media landscape faces a woeful future due to our markets being politically and economically compromised. The smaller, independent publishers don’t have the economic power to force change. Our news publishers are grappling with how to charge for quality content with alternative revenue models such as paywalls, voluntary support models and offering premium content for subscribers.

How does this effect you on an individual level and what are you supposed to do about it?

  1. Have a critical look at how much control and information you give to big tech companies – for free. And then perhaps look at the control you have in terms of media options and where you spend your advertising bucks. Don’t be a slave to the algorithms and machines!
  2. The free press and any quality content produced relies on your advertising revenue and support for survival. Try support where you can!

I’m offering you a choice:

“You take the blue pill…the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill…you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

 

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