Broken Telephone and the Social Media Solution

August 10, 2011 4:49 pm

When the audience becomes critical, so does the issue of quality content

A couple of weeks ago, A Current Affair ran a story about Full Moon parties on Koh Pha-Ngan in Thailand. Predictably, the angle was one of fear-mongering and outrage over the lack of regulation to protect young, drunk Western travellers in developing countries.

For the story, ACA interviewed Ben Groundwater, Fairfax’s popular travel blogger who writes The Backpacker column each week. Equally predictably, the show’s producers cherry-picked Groundwater’s comments in order to give the piece the appropriate amount of panic-inspiring doom and gloom.


None of this is particularly remarkable – except that Ben Groundwater, annoyed that the point he was making had been deliberately distorted in the edited version, was able to address the issuer (and redress the balance) via his blog:

‘I was invited to go on A Current Affair… to talk about Full Moon parties, as back-up to an interview with one of the Australian girls involved in a boating accident off Koh Pha-Ngan last year.

‘The angle of the story, as I probably should have guessed, was something like, “Full Moon Parties: Ruining Australian Lives’, detailing the dangers of backpackers going to unpoliced beach parties in remote South-East Asian islands.

‘Unfortunately, the only part of my interview that made the cut was me banging on about the fact that things can get a little bit out of hand there. And they can. But I had a lot more to say, so I’m going to take this chance to say it.’

Social media aids the bullshit filter

Whether or not full moon parties are dangerous or not isn’t the issue here—nor is ACA’s journalistic integrity (or lack thereof). Groundwater sums it up perfectly when he writes “I had a lot more to say, so I’m going to take this chance to say it.”

Because that’s what social media is all about—removing the middle man and taking back the responsibility of deciding—and speaking—for ourselves. It’s this taste of independence—of being able the access information without requiring the filter of a newspaper or television show—that has proven most detrimental to the traditional media model.

This is not to say that social media is a less-biased form of accessing information (far from it) in fact, most blogs are entirely opinion-based, and unapologetically so. The difference is that blogs and other forms of social media allow us lowly media consumers the opportunity to not only become news reporters, but editors and critics as well.

Reading a blog, we switch on that part of our brain that picks out the information we deem important. The bullshit filter, if you will. We have the opportunity to respond to and engage with a post, which changes the way we receive the information.

Social media filters bullshit

Traditional media can be compared to a game of Chinese Whispers (also known as ‘Broken Telephone’), in which the original message becomes so distorted by agenda and editing that the end result bears little resemblance to the truth—whatever that is. Social Media is an opportunity to fix the telephone. There’s still no guarantee that the person on the other end is telling ‘the truth’, but, usually at least, they’re telling their truth—and interpreting other people’s truths is as good a way as any to find our own.


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