Last Friday, Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTÉ, invited professional troll Katy Hopkins to be a guest on its flagship light entertainment show, The Late Late Show.
Although it’s subsidised by license fees, RTÉ gets almost half its funding from advertising. Meaning its revenue is directly affected by the number of viewers it gets.
And this is how we end up with people like Katy Hopkins on the Late Late Show. Someone that no-one wanted to see, no-one wanted to listen to, someone whose appearance drew an enormous 1,300 complaints. She ends up on their prime time chat show because it got people talking.
Reasonable opinions don’t go viral. People don’t tweet en masse when a guest on a TV show says something sensible.
Sensible people — people who care about things like acceptance and inclusion — were complaining about Katy Hopkins being on the show. They talked about how they weren’t going to watch the show, and everyone inside the same echo chamber of opinions repeated the same thing, over and over again.
Meanwhile, the people who were insulated from the uproar, the people who don’t know who Katy is (or worse, the people that agree with her) just watched the show anyway. Along with, I’ll bet, a lot of the people who said they wouldn’t. And then come the complaints to RTÉ and the cycle continues.
On a similar note, Mark Zuckerberg released a statement last week denying that fake news stories on Facebook had any impact on the US election. A site that relies on advertising revenue saying that content on that site can’t influence people? Bullshit, right?
Well, if the group in Facebook working to fight back against these fake news stories, it’s totally bullshit. Quoting one anonymous Facebooker “to highlight fake news articles in the news feed, to promote them so they get millions of shares by people who think they are real, that’s not something we should allow to happen. Facebook is getting played by people using us to spread their bullshit.”
In chasing controversy — for views, clicks or whatever — media outlets like RTÉ, Facebook and Twitter are directly responsible for a lowering of the standard of general discourse. They’re normalising hatred and intolerance. They give a platform to trolls because it’s profitable for them, and they ignore the wider social impact. And I don’t think that’s good enough any more.
I don’t really a solution for any of this. I’ve just been feeling really demoralized for the last week and wanted to get this off my chest. So, in lieu of a conclusion, here’s a photo of Christoph Waltz eating a hamburger to cheer us all up.
Update 20161130: Gizmodo recently ran an article about Reddit tearing itself apart. tl;dr the /r/The_Donald subreddit is driving lots of pro-Trump engagement (in all its hate-spreading glory) while driving other traffic away and alienating moderators.