Are UKIP and the BBC made for each other?
The BBC has recent documented form: the NHS privatisation process was summarily ignored by its journalists. We outside the BBC assume this is due to a deliberate and intentioned act of conspiracy – maybe, charitably, fear of a mauling at the hands of the Daily Mails of the world too – which leads most of them to act as one.
But what if it was the web itself which provided the railway tracks that defined the journey not only BBC journalists are taking but, more and more, all journalists who use this interconnected marvel?
Take a look at the following screenshot – or at least how it was rendered by the BBC website this morning when I first browsed there (the missing facts are, in fact, now completely missing!).
As you can see, we have in a bulleted list “Fact 1″ and “Fact 2″ – but nowhere are the blessed beasts themselves to be found.
A slip of the virtual pen, clearly. But in its slip, it reveals how stories are put together: an intro in bold, an overview paragraph, a pair of factoids designed to build up and support one position or t’other (in this case I presume Nigel Farage).
Isn’t it so easy to choose to follow the crowd; to accept received opinion; to confect a reality as per the framework the website template provides?
And wouldn’t it be even easier to ensure – by way of self-interested template design – that one’s workforces did just that?
Maybe it’s not the BBC journalists we should be raging at after all.
Who knows? Maybe, again, it’s the machine-to-machine web that’s slowly encroaching on all our decision-making, perceptions and humanity. Maybe that’s what’s at fault. And maybe such a web of trammelled truths is precisely why the UKIPs of the world are hitting their mark. Prejudice lends itself to unquestioning repetition: what is a website template if not the CSS of reality?
Update to this post: further reading has just come my way. This talk by Emily Bell says lots of lovely things. Worth reading in full, here are some excerpts which caught my eye:
- “To have our free speech standards, our reporting tools and publishing rules set by unaccountable software companies is a defining issue not just for journalism but the whole of society.”
- “The fourth estate, which liked to think that it operated in splendid isolation from other systems of money and power, has slipped suddenly and conclusively into a world where it no longer owns the means of production, or controls the routes to distribution.”
- “Of course, every algorithm contains editorial decisions, every piece of software design carries social implications. If the whole world connects at high speed in 140 characters it changes the nature of discourse and events.”
- “If there is a free press, journalists are no longer in charge of it. Engineers who rarely think about journalism or cultural impact or democratic responsibility are making decisions every day that shape how news is created and disseminated.”
- “Every time an algorithm is tweaked, an editorial decision is being made.”
- “If Facebook can nudge your emotions towards happiness or sadness by manipulating what you see, can it use obscure algorithms to influence something more sinister, such as, for instance, the way we vote?”
- “[…] In order to preserve our role in any robust way, we must stop relying solely on the tools and platforms of others and build our own.”
And the conclusion of so much concentrated intelligence? Yes. Precisely that most socialist of ideas: design, build and own the means of production!