The internet and the (in)equality of knowledge.

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece on the varying sources of news that different demographics tended to use as their trusted source and how this influenced their view and perception and understanding of fact(s). This was before ‘fake news’ came along in all its ugly Trump-like form and created – in some cases – a societal chasm that may take years or generations to heal.

And, as I have stumbled around my freelancing world and having one foot firmly placed outside digital and planted in the reality of real life – I’ve definitely seen a huge movement to social media as a source of news – interestingly in terms of the over 55’s across to Facebook….

So, taking the broadly agreed principle that the sources of people’s news influence their opinions I started to think and ponder if these sources and influences also drove their broader knowledge and understanding – it’s not too big a leap.

I’ll be honest – the driver to revisit this subject was that I really couldn’t believe some of the nonsense that was being transferred to me as fact – with the cast iron source of the news and knowledge being Facebook. We all know that increased knowledge (education) leads to increased opportunity and life chances, therefore, is the fact that a serious percentage of the population are getting their news from social media, blogs and at best ‘flippant’ sources of news – mean that in the longer-term they are limiting their own opportunities those of their social circle(s) – simply by restricting their access to more and a broader view on information?

Crickey – a bit heavy right?

So, cutting to the chase with my (sensationalised) hypothesis…..

If you use Facebook as a prime source of news and knowledge – you will have less opportunity in your life to achieve your potential.

Hmmmmm, a flaky theory at best but -  to be honest - it feels right to me. However, there must be more influences and drivers to it than this – I mean after all echo chambers are a well known digital psychological principle – hey look at Trump (again-if you must)?

But what about if Facebook isn’t the attraction but rather a ‘catch-all’ safety net? What about if we are limiting the opportunities for very people that need and deserve access to a wider range of views and news sources – by the way that the internet, its services and content have been designed, with the result that we are driving people into Facebook’s loving arms?

Ok, well maybe, it’s the fact that despite the internet being envisaged as a great leveller and source of knowledge it is in fact becoming a two-tier service for the have’s and have-not’s.

·       Broadband access is wrapped up in with expensive TV packages – that’s if you can get decent broadband access to your part of the world – and if you want broadband only – the commercial ‘hard-sell’ comes in from the likes of Sky and BT. More money you get better broadband – better broadband you can access better services.

·       Mobile data access is limited to what you can afford (or not) – and anyway so much tracking code is put in your phone’s browser that your battery life is reduced by 60% - so every piece of data is precious to you.

·       Commercial imperatives mean that reputable (albeit with some political bias) sources of news and knowledge such as The Times, The New Yorker etc have placed themselves behind a paywall.

·       Advertising and associated revenue is moving away from historical sources of reputable (and almost reputable sources) – i.e. (looking at the ‘mainstream’) ITV have reduced their documentary and educational output (yes, they did use to have one), whereas the BBC is full of ’10 reasons….’ content 

·       Educational establishments (even the Open University) provide access to some content but for much you need to register and provide information that you may not be comfortable with.

You might say well, its always been like this – the underlying ‘class’ system in (specifically the UK) has always been in place – that’s why some people read The Sun and watch Channel 5 whereas others watch BBC4 and read The Telegraph (heaven forbid).

This excellent piece of work from Faris Yakob – summarised in this visual - outlines how not only is where and how we access our information is influencing our knowledge but also our emotions…… (think Maslow’s hierarchy of need revised)…

Sure, and I understand the contradiction for us liberals (or those lucky enough to have had access to a wider education) to moan about the fact that people are not able improve their own knowledge by themselves – when all the access to the tools to do that, is at their fingertips.

But we must have a responsibility to have an equality to digital access to at least enable everyone to have a level playing field when it comes to being able to have a choice (even if it is limited) to the news, information and therefore knowledge that they gather. After all, even The Sun and The Daily Mail have a level of editorial standards – where Facebook and Twitter are still struggling with this.

And I think that we’ve given up on creating digital inequality – we are saying that if you want to get a broader understanding of stuff – you need to pay for it either through more data, better broadband or access to content. We’ve forgotten what the internet was meant to be and in the race for commercial gain – we’ve sullied and tarnished what could have been truly man’s greatest innovation – and limited the experience of those that potentially would benefit the most from it. 

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