The internet can be a frightening and inspiring place, sometimes at the same time. The speed at which we can write and spread information means that one person’s knee-jerk perspective can become the entrenched views of millions in a matter of minutes.
As the events that took place in Paris last week have shown, whenever a global event occurs, the Web erupts in a chorus of sympathy and anger. That is a fundamental part of the digital world we live in.
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The internet is an ocean of information. Some of that is useful, some of it not. But because of the interconnectivity of our digital selves with those around us, we can rarely control what washes up at our door.
But there is a point when even that laissez-faire view has to draw the line. Today, The Daily Caller, an American website with a strong preference for the political right published a post entitled, ’13 Syrian Refugees We’d Take Immediately’.
The piece, written by the site’s entertainment editor was supposed to be a lighthearted take on an issue that has absolutely nothing ‘lite’ about it. So far this year, more than 800,000 migrants and refugees have made their way to Europe across perilous waters. About 3,500 people have died or are missing, according to the U.N.
As many as 220,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war. There is nothing funny about these numbers.
The piece trawls Instagram account syrian_girls looking for aesthetically pleasing women to showcase the idea that if the refugees were pretty, perhaps US lawmakers might think again about wanting to close the borders to Middle Eastern refugees.
“While a growing list of governors are claiming they won’t allow Syrian refugees to enter their states, we think these women might make them change their minds.”
I have a theory. In the never-ending race for pageviews we have forgotten that we are there to inform and educate people first, not tick the right boxes to make internet algorithms put our work into as many people’s browsers as possible.
This a tragic example of how online media has found itself forgetting its values in favour of clicks. Publications with a roster of respectable journalists now willingly turn a blind-eye when it comes to chasing the all mighty pageview.
Since taking over as editor-in-chief of The Next Web I have tried to instill in the creators of this site and our team chasing traffic will only lead a site to ruin. The journalists who work in these places have no opportunity to hone their craft. Instead they are ground down into an empty shell that instead of reporting on issues they deem important simply churn out posts that will attract the most attention.
The audience meanwhile will simply get bored and move on, leaving a brand with no identity and a group of people with no purpose. Worst of all, it means the original, thoughtful pieces of journalism that are crafted on a daily basis are drowned out by the incessant noise, starved of audiences crying out to understand a subject as complex as the one the above article attempts to comment upon.
I love online media and I love technology. It has allowed more people to call themselves journalists than ever before. The tireless work this community of people does to prod and question the words and actions of people in power I genuinely believe makes the world a better place.
But with that power must come responsibility. We cannot throw up our arms and allow the machines that underpin how content circulates around the Web to dictate to us what we should and should not write about as journalists.
We can’t, we must not trivialise the pain and suffering of others in the name of traffic.