Rick Falkvinge || Techdirct.com || 2/10/2012
As the political victory from the SOPA strikedown sinks in, reflections over old media’s role take its place. We know that old media — unidirectional media such as TV, newspapers, radio — barely covered SOPA at all. We also know that this has political reasons, as their owners didn’t want to draw attention to the issue. But even at the apex of the fightback, on January 18, old media barely mentioned what was happening. This is very noteworthy in itself.
I can’t see this in any other light than old media being conceptually unable to tell the narrative of millions of people fighting against a powerful few dozen. It’s not just that they chose not to — it’s that their very construction makes it as impossible for them to communicate those events as it would be for a color-blind person to communicate the impressions of a blue-period Picasso.
Old media, after all, is built on the premise of large organizations competing for resources; its narrative is dependent on pitting two powerful representatives against each other to portray their respective interests and let them battle it out in public. Old media consists of large corporations that can only portray conflicts between other large organizations.
This established old media style, which focuses on the pretense of impartiality, has sometimes been called “he-said, she-said journalism,” pronounced with a small but well-deserved hint of disrespect.
The copyright monopoly industries had no problems producing a trained, charismatic debater who would probably win in any televised debate against a random person of one of the millions of activists. But in the end, it didn’t matter: it was the millions that made the difference and won.
To put this in context, how did we see the SOPA debate play out, we who get our news on the net? We don’t get our news from one source, but from hundreds, maybe thousands. You could easily model this as the cherry-picking of a typical newspaper — I read a couple of political blogs, some comics, a couple of current affairs, eight real-time Twitter streams, and so on. The sum of it all could be made to resemble a newspaper on an ordinary day.
But there is a crucial difference in the net’s cross-communication between information sources. When all of our hundreds of different news sources start to converge around and resonate with each other on one single topic, as happened with SOPA, then all of us sense that immediately. Immediately.
Old media is not capable of communicating that sense of powerful resonance. You would not see a message of political urgency instead of your usual comics on the comic page, for instance. But on the net, that happened for us with The Oatmeal and XKCD. Old media, in contrast, have their predetermined length of news clips and page lengths, divided by topics, portraying conflicts as experts talking it out. Half a page for talking about foreign affairs, half a page for tax policy, another page for sports, then the weather. Old media can’t resonate with the people when something is important.
As it turns out, one expert talking on a small allocated space cannot represent one million concerned people — a million who are leaderless to begin with, yet very organized and efficient anyway. Therefore, any attempt to frame this event in he-said, she-said journalism just falls flat on its face.
For us, there is no such thing as a maximum length of an article. (We use recycled electrons anyway.) When we want to talk more on a subject, there are no frames and boundaries stopping us from doing so. This article, to give one example, could be the typical length of an average blog post. But it’s quite a bit longer than the hard limit of an op-ed piece.
There are two important things to learn from this: We don’t need old media to tell our story to succeed, and we’re able to tell the story ourselves. This, if anything, is what should have old media really worried.
For not only did old media fail in narrating the story, for political reasons and for capability reasons; they also failed in keeping their audience captive and preventing the story from being narrated anyway.
Narrated by us. All of us.
When a million people talk to their friends, family, and colleagues about a subject, that wins outright over any narrative that old media is trying to portray. That collective of a million people is able to coordinate discoveries and stories between them with an efficiency that makes them run in circles against any attempt to control the available information.
(This is how most Pirate Parties operate, by the way, and this is also the basis for swarm organization theory.)
As a project manager, one thing I’ve learned is that you can never be reliant on an element that is completely outside of your control for your project to succeed; if so, your plan is broken. Old media, up until now, was such an element. No longer. While they can certainly assist, they are no longer necessary for saving the net and our values.
In summary, we learned that this was the first sign of old media becoming… irrelevant, is probably the right word. Irrelevant for things that really matter.
Rick Falkvinge is the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party. Follow him as @Falkvinge on Twitter, read his private blog, or get him for a keynote.