And that’s the key thing to understand about these distributed, mass
publication media. They are not inherently good or bad. They are not a
force for good or evil, but merely a vehicle in which the voices of the
many can be raised for or against something, and, if enough passion is
felt by enough people, bring traditional media channels to their knees.
Jan Moir has been claiming that she is the victim of an “orchestrated”
campaign against her. That’s a classic journalistic misunderstanding of
the nature of the medium: it’s distributed, not hierarchical like
conventional media, and so it’s very, very difficult to orchestrate
anything. No-one’s in charge, there’s not central authority. It only
works if enough people buy into the cause to support it with the few
seconds it takes to tweet about it – and the many more seconds to tweet
about it many times to keep it trending. Some people have heavy
influence – like Stephen Fry – simply by their sheer number of
followers. But no-one has the power to actually orchestrate anything.
In the comments on my Trafigura post, Steve Jackson worried about what
would happen when the power of the mob is turned on an individual
rather than a corporate organisation. In a sense, we’ve already seen
that happen. Twitter was instrumental in bringing to light the actions of a London Underground employee, who was recorded yelling at a passenger, a video which was blogged by the guy who shot it. The weight of public opinion is very much against Ian, but I can’t help worrying about the fact I certainly wouldn’t want my worst days at work recorded and posted on the internet. How many of us could stand up to such scrutiny?
As Stephen Fry points out in an excellent “blessay”, the mob is unforgiving of mistakes. And the mob has a new voice, and new power. And that can’t be removed, nor should it be. But people will take time to learn to use it, and mistakes will be made in the meantime. We’re in for some stormy times ahead, I think.