Saturday, May 3, 2014

Karl du Fresne: The truly scary thing about Barraco Barner

Heard of Barraco Barner? Possibly not. But according to a 20-year-old English beautician, he’s the president of Britain and he really shouldn’t be getting involved in Ukraine’s problems. Here, starkly laid bare, is the one of the downsides of social media and the digital information revolution. Instant opinion, zero knowledge.

Gemma Worrall from Blackpool wrote on Twitter that it was “scary” that “our president Barraco Barner” was tangling with Russia. But the truly scary thing is that someone who thought that Britain had a president, and that his name was Barraco Barner, could so innocently display their rank ignorance for the world to see.
Ms Worrall’s tweet shines a light on the existence of people whose view of the world is formed not from the printed word, but from whatever they happen to overhear.

If she had seen Barack Obama’s name in print, it’s unlikely she would have been so gravely misled as to how it’s spelled. But clearly, she’d only ever heard it – perhaps from customers chatting in the beauty parlour where she works, or from a TV set playing in the background.

Add to that Ms Worrall’s obvious belief that the world needed to hear her considered views on Barraco Barner and Russia, and you have a lethal confection of foolishness and conceit.

On the other hand, these things are self-correcting. As her gaffe was re-tweeted worldwide, thousands gleefully pounced, sneering at her error.

You might say this is a good thing. A mistake was promptly exposed and corrected. But in the process, another unlovely aspect of social media was laid bare: namely, the propensity for abuse and bullying by anonymous cowards.

Never in human history has it been easier for someone like Ms Worrall to express their thoughts so instantly or freely, without the moderating intervention of someone who might save them from embarrassment. And never has it been easier for others to join in mob nastiness.

You could argue that this is all very democratic. But is it progress?

I have doubts, too, about the explosion in online opinion, even when it’s written by people who know very well who Barack Obama is and how his name is spelled.

University of Otago political scientist Bryce Edwards collates online political comment every day and emails a summary to people who are interested in politics and curious to know what others are thinking.

What’s notable is that the volume increases with every week, to the point where it has become almost indigestible.

On Monday I counted 67 commentaries on the subject of Shane Jones’ departure from the Labour Party. These ranged from generally dispassionate comment in mainstream media to partisan rants by bloggers from both sides of the political fence. The previous Thursday, Edwards disseminated 51 commentaries on the same subject.

As political comment proliferates and the tone becomes more trenchant, so the temptation to tune out – or at least to exercise greater discretion about how much of it one bothers to read – increases. The law of diminishing returns kicks in.

In the early days of the Internet, someone cleverly said that trying to keep up with the flow of information it unleashed was like drinking from a fire hose. I don’t know what you’d compare it with now.

Having one’s say has never been easier, but the clamour and static sometimes threatens to overwhelm reasoned debate. 

Karl du Fresne blogs at published in The Dominion Post.


Kiwiwit said...

Personally, I love the fact that I no longer have to digest news and views through the 'moderating intervention' of (invariably left-wing) journalists. And incidentally, Gemma Worrall's comment was bang on the mark - even the New York Times now agrees that Obama's foreign policy is scarily incompetent:

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Something I was thinking about the other day ties in with your commentary and irritation about the glut of commentary about Shane Jones (or it could be any other hot topic). That's the current talkback habit of confining listeners to a topic of choice. That reults in hearing similar opinion expressed repeatedly (even if a subsequent caller has successfully rebutted some particularly inane take) and allows the host to generate/convey a public hysteria about whatever pushes his buttons. It also encourages habitual callers who just happen to have an opinion on everything under the sun. Talkback isn't what it was.

Brian said...

Mr. Barraco Barner!!
Reading Karl’s beautician social media release confirms a long standing opinion that my emigration from Britain in 1952 was the best move I ever made.
However what is more intriguing is the lack of political knowledge among the general public, (include New Zealand in this) and the ignorance of the many. One might well ask is this a feature of our school system today?
Judging by a local report that many school children have only a slight idea of history in general. (Apart that is, from the huge amount of time given in our schools to promoting Maori history and the revisionism which goes along with it). It is as if history itself is to blame for the ills of this world, and must be avoid or regarded as of no interest or relevance in the modern world.
I read a recent report on British undergraduates studying history which revealed that only 34% knew what English monarch sat on the throne at the time of the Armada, a similar percentage was for the country in which the Boer War was fought. The majority thought Nelson had won the Battle of Waterloo!. Well it is not world shattering, but it does make one wonder just what they do recognise as history?
It is said that if you do not know history you are like a leaf which does not know it is part of a tree, and if we cannot learn from history, where can we learn from?
If the internet gives rise to gaffes and ignorance, just what else does it give rise too? Misinformation deliberate or non intentional seems to afflict every branch of media these days. Of course it happened also in the past, but now the internet covers us all and there is very little in the way of any relief!
One of the main problems is that the cult of the personality has displaced the real news; this cult is a demand by the public which is always good media copy. Hence the Jones Boy’s affair, the resignation of Maurice Williamson and of course there is more to this space!
What is being missed is sensible political comment from the broad political spectrum, such as properly conducted panels, not loaded either in the audience, or with “experts” to get the prevailing viewpoint of either the interviewer, or their organisation! On the whole the N Z media has a very poor coverage of World affairs. Leave out sport, major tragedies, and accidents and we are left with a skeleton devoid of any substance.
Politically the media changes after every election, but then it is just like the Hollywood actress changing husbands, hopeful of getting a better one...she rarely does!

paul scott said...

good, I like it, I wonder if she knows that what his name boracker Barmer is 17 trillion dollars in debt. Mostly to his own citizens.
I see massive opportunities for New Zealand, but I am sad our own country is also running along the debt program. I hear nothing from the opposition on how we will live within our means

Michael Gibson said...

Who on earth wants to read the boring & ususally ignorant views which seem to be so tritely expressed on "social media" - especially when they can get educated views from people like Karl du Fresne?
Luckily the penny on this seems to be dropping.

Dave said...

Democracy is a wonderful thing, that is if moderately intelligent people can vote to put intelligent good people in power who can really help everyone fairly and compassionately. Unfortunately democracy doesn't work, because
sadly there are many , many similar people like the 20 year old beautician. Its amazing that we need a licence or a qualification for just about everything we do in life ... except... vote... arguably the most important decision we ever make because our lives and futures are shaped by those we elect.
Voters like the beautician cast their vote on trivial decisions not based on fact. Ask any 18 or 20 year old and a lot of older people who and why they intend to vote for and you will be shocked by the answers. usually based around one simple often totally fabricated piece of propaganda. Like 'they are selling all our assets, they don't help Maori enough, or in the case of a 57 year old lady I personally know, who said, she will vote greens because that Key doesn't help the poor enough. This same lady has been on an invalids benefit because of her 'bad back' for at least 10 years, receives an accommodation supplement, works as a cleaner for cash, so pays no tax ( remember she is on an invalids benefit) has her own car, 2 bedroom rented accommodation and 3 dogs.
The world is full of ignorant and often stupid people who have a hand out 'gimme' mentality, these same people are poorly educated thanks to our PC education system that teaches nothing about economics, history or social responsibility but is big on treaty issues, how to count in Maori and so on.
So like the beautician this large underclass are going to cast a vote based on their 'informed' decisions.
Not sure what the answer is but we as a society are reaping what we sow.

Anonymous said...

I have two grand-daughters, who are not permitted by their parents to watch TV news, I have never heard the radio on in their house, and they never discuss current events with the children or read national newspapers. The father comes from a lower working-class British background, and he makes very pointed left-wing comments during conversations with us (which we ignore). I was walking with the younger girl recently, and she told me that John Key was stealing money from the poor people, and when questioned, she told me that her father had told her this. I told her that I know John Key (I little white lie), and that he was very honest (which I very much believe to be true). I don't know whether she believed me, but I'm saddened that two lovely young girls will grow up to hate all right-of centre politicians, simply because their father taught them to do so.

The Realist. said...

The sad thing is that Gemma is allowed to vote.