TUMBY BAY - No matter how good an innovation is there will always be people who subvert it and spoil it for everyone else.
This axiom applies from something as simple as people taking undue advantage of a public welfare measure by ripping it off with false claims to the greater complexity of major frauds perpetuated by large corporations taking advantage of loopholes in tax laws.
Quite often the rorting results in the withdrawal of the innovation or its modification to a point where its original intent is nullified.
In our neck of the woods a prime example is the way the otherwise well-proven Westminster system of government in Papua New Guinea has been so corrupted by politicians for their own ends that it has become unfit for purpose.
Fortunately, and thanks to the pessimists and sceptics in society, it’s possible to modify many innovations that seem ripe for exploitation before the carpetbaggers and conmen get to them.
In other cases an innovation can seem so spectacular and promising that it blindsides everyone and it is only much later that its drawbacks become apparent.
This seems to be the case with many of the popular social media platforms that have sprung out of the digital revolution.
The unintended consequences and collateral damage caused by platforms like Facebook and Twitter seem to be compounding month by month. Not least of these is the subversion of truth.
Truth has always been a delicate and malleable concept. Its relationship to fact has oft times been tenuous.
Social media seems to have not only exacerbated the weakness of truth as a concept but been willing in assisting its decline.
While it has always been acknowledged that knowledge is a powerful tool that can be dangerous in the wrong hands, the assumption has also been that it has a certain purity of concept no matter who owns or promulgates it.
Social media seems to have upended this assumption by turning a blind eye. Nowadays fake news and conspiracy theories seem to be increasingly part of its major stock in trade.
Whether this misuse and destructive impulse is simply driven by a profit motive or by something darker and more dangerous is an open question.
According to recent surveys some 30% of people in the developed world now rely on social media for their news. This is particularly so among young people, where the percentage is even higher.
Older generations still rely on television and radio. The old and reliable standby, the print media, is declining rapidly; its self-proclaimed duty of speaking truth to power all but gone.
To make matters worse, most of the few remaining print media sources large enough to be influential are rebooting their editorial policies in an attempt to be competitive with social media.
And this means honest and accurate reporting has been replaced by sensationalism, fake news and ‘click bait’ headlines.
Fact has been replaced by opinion; truth by fakery; objectivity by spin; science by ‘feelism’.
And celebrities have become experts; and experts have to be celebrities to be taken seriously.
Information, no matter the source or how important, generally comes to us in short grabs. On television and radio these grabs last seconds. In the print media, long-form journalism which can really give us a thorough understanding of an issue is increasingly a thing of the past.
How long it will be before news reports are reduced to 280 letters (and spaces) to emulate Twitter is anyone’s guess.
In the USA much presidential policy is dispensed using Twitter feed. Trump has 86 million followers. That’s as many as the readership of every newspaper in China (or so the Chinese tell us).
At the end of the day it would have been naïve to think that the information explosion that occurred with the advent of the internet was all going to be good.
That it now is being greatly subverted for nefarious reasons has become yet another problem for the people of the world to solve.