Media Have a Sacred Responsibility for the Avoidance of Pandering

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The formidable David Smith, best known and loved for his founding of Mediasmith, connected the dots between the revelations of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and the work all of us do, you and I, in the media industry. He writes:

"What have we wrought?
The commodification of human attentiveness.
We have been striving to measure and act on attentiveness. Facebook, Google and others by maxing algorithms that push virality, which according to the whistleblower and others is strongest when negative.
Food for discussion on responsibility of the commercial side of this business. What is the buy side doing about it? (Supporting the right vehicles, etc.)"

I sent him back the definition of the word "pandering": "To gratify or indulge (an immoral or distasteful desire, need, or habit or a person with such a desire, etc.)." An example: "Newspapers are pandering to people's baser instincts."

The deep thinker Joel Tucciarone taught me that a person happy with a brand will tell six people, but a person unhappy with a brand will tell 13 people.

What does that tell us? It is empirical evidence of a bias toward negativity, rather than away from it, which one might assume to be the case, since rationally, it is one's own self-interest to be positive. But as we all know, we are not at the current time a rational species. My theory of Acceleritis attempts to explain this modern trance into which we have fallen.

The FCC has a sacred right to protect the public's airwaves from material harmful to our hearts and minds. However, the FCC never expanded that remit over all the media. Hollywood and the Comic Book Code for years self-regulated themselves to avoid pandering to people's basest obsessions and made sure the good guys always won. Xi Jinping carries this protection to an extreme that is alien to the American tenor. If we shall soon be adding new regulations that are intended to restrict negative media, it shall have to be done with the utmost specificity so as to not overreach.

I confess to having a utopian view of what the world could be like if the media were more consciously positive, without becoming 10,000 versions of the estimable Hallmark Channel.

The word "positive" does not mean without drama created by negative characters, but the best dramatic art according to some is that art which shows the positive evolution of the character, driven by the action which was caused by the character. The Joseph Campbell archetypal story arc.

My writings of the prior century may be summed up as predicting the digital media, and that they would cause a positive upswing in people discovering their own passion work and in participatory democracy. Hah!

Joke's on me. 180 degrees away from the devastating outcome all around us. We have become our own worst selves, caricatures of who we were before the first (and offensive) wave of social media. The second wave is already coming in, and Snap is a great example of taking responsibility for bringing out people's creativity in positive ways. So is the altruistic Weare8 now launched in the U.K. and heading our way

The good thing is that the scenario I imagined is never far out of reach. The powerhouses are the advertisers. It is their money (really everyone in the cycle's money). The advertisers call the shots. If they want better media, as David Smith points out above, they can have it. The kids will come out of the zombie state and get down to business with life. Everything will get better; even passionate people will become willing to talk with civility again.

Manufacturing viral negativity might be a crime someday. Advertisers can solve it with simple media allocation shifts that will probably also increase ROI and brand equity.

Turns out I'm not the first one who had the thought that advertisers could change our media for the better. I'll end this column with a Goodreads quote from visionary iconic TV journalist Edward R. Murrow:

"I began by saying that our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge, and retribution will not limp in catching up with us.

We are to a large extent an imitative society. If one or two or three corporations would undertake to devote just a small fraction of their advertising appropriation along the lines that I have suggested, the procedure would grow by contagion; the economic burden would be bearable, and there might ensue a most exciting adventure -- exposure to ideas and the bringing of reality into the homes of the nation.

To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference."

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