Chris Mitchell is a ‘columnist’ for the Murdoch ‘newspaper’ The Australian and he has written a piece entitled ‘Why the mainstream must ignore social media’1. By this, I presume he means that mainstream media must ignore social media. No doubt Murdoch and his minions would like this to be so, because in some cases it is social media which is now setting the agenda. For instance, the Joyce-Taylor water buyback fiasco blew up on social media (Twitter) days before it hit the mainstream media, and it is still being driven by social media and bloggers.
Hilariously, Mitchell states that after the September 11 terrorist attacks, “the left media at the time was wallowing in a ‘blame the victims” debate, arguing Muslim rage was the West’s fault”. Needless to say, Mitchell does not give examples. I must have missed these debates. He then contrasts Murdoch media’s [he uses ‘Ours’] attitude to this outrage as reflecting “traditional liberal democratic thinking going back to the enlightenment” with that from Fairfax and the ABC which stems from “recent trends in universities reducing history and social science to an examination of power dynamics and individual identity”. What this means is anybody’s guess, as Murdoch media seems very antipathetic to the Enlightenment most of the time.
Then Mitchell blames social media for the worsening polarisation of Christianity and Islam since September 11, almost 18 years ago, and 11 years before Twitter reached its first 100 million accounts worldwide2, and 7 years before Facebook reached its first 100 million accounts worldwide3. Of course, Mitchell never mentions the ready use of the dog whistle by the Howard government4, or by the current coalition government5,6,7, both of which used it to try to polarise the Australian population for political advantage. Neither does Mitchell mention the almost universal support of such use of the dog whistle by the Murdoch media.
Perhaps the funniest part of Mitchell’s diatribe was his support for the religious nutter Israel Folau, who on a private social media account (oxymoron alert!) that “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” were all going to go to hell. While the irony of threatening atheists with going to hell is probably lost on Folau, the fact that some gay kid who idolises Folau could be affected by this, never seems to have crossed Folau’s mind, such as it is. Folau was sacked not because of his bigotry per se, but because after a previous incident, the social media guidelines had been tightened in the contract he signed in October, 20188. So, he was effectively sacked for breaking the conditions of his contract. The silliest part of this is that Mitchell seems to think this is perfectly acceptable because Folau was “simply stating what most people in Western societies have believed to be true for most of the last two millennia”. Some people used to believe that witches should be put to death, and as many as 40,000 witches were9. Fortunately, we jettisoned that ludicrous belief. Similarly, we used to incarcerate homosexuals for being who they were; now we don’t. We used to prevent homosexuals from getting married; now we don’t. Soon, almost nobody will believe homosexuals are destined for hell. As H.L. Mencken said: “Religion belongs to a very early stage of human development, and … its rapid decay in the world since the Reformation is evidence of genuine progress.”
“Social media is replete with falsehoods and sceptical of the notion of truth” is perhaps one of the most perfect examples of the pot calling the kettle black I have seen in recent years. As if to emphasise Mitchell’s lack of awareness, he states at the end of the same paragraph that ‘if there is no such thing as objective truth’, then this is “at odds with the methods of journalism, which depend on time-proven strategies to reach truth and balance.” That this comes from a writer for Murdoch beggars belief, as his media outlets are some of the worst purveyors of lies in the country10,11,12,13,14. They are also one of the worst sources of climate change denialism in the nation15.
The fact that Mitchell could write (or be told to write?) this piece of drivel, so lacking in self awareness, makes me think that Murdoch and his local minions are starting to see the writing on the wall, that they are losing their ability to set the agenda. This is in part caused by the dilution of their reach by the proliferation of independent newspapers such as the Guardian, the Independent, the Saturday Paper, the New Daily, and new Matilda, among others, and by the proliferation of journalists who are now respected bloggers. It is also aided by a Coalition government which is mostly concerned with its internecine struggles between the moderates and the hard right, and which is corrupt, inept, and completely lacking in a vision for the future. In addition, it is led by a spiv who, like a racecourse urger, talks (or shouts) up a storm, but says very little.