Sun | Jul 22, 2018

Andre Burnett | Bad news as social media commodity

Published:Friday | February 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM
André Burnett

It's the Holy Grail of any marketer to find a platform that can share the good news about their clients with the press of a button.

Let's look at it this way: In 1984, the year, not the book, it would cost you a small fortune to tell 20,000 people anything at any one time.

In that era, it was literally science fiction to think that someone could sit in their room and broadcast their opinions, thoughts and ideas to hundreds of thousands of people for a cost lower than rent or even food. But yet, here we are a few decades later.

It's 2017 and I'm looking at Jamaica's most fear-rendering crime wave in my memory through the lens of a communications specialist and I'm concerned. I'm concerned about the fact that media platforms are literally in everyone's pocket and not everyone has the care or the integrity to use that massive power that comes with it.

The same manner in which we can spread good cheer by posting a Bible verse in the morning to guide the day or a meme to lighten the spirit, the converse can be said for bad news or things that have a negative effect on your countenance.

There's a reason that people ask if you want the good news or the bad news first - it's to at least give you the option of deciding how to deal with the bad news.

Bad news informs as well as good news. But technology has given rise to a clearer depiction of bad news, meaning that in addition to the newspaper story about a murder that you would have read about in 2007, nowadays you get a video of the incident, the pictures and the voice notes - until it becomes very real to you.

Think about it - if a voice note is sent to enough people, the chances of it eventually becoming 'true' are close to Usain Bolt beating Richie Feelings in a wind sprint.

'Full picture' society

We've become a 'full picture' society, where we want to be close to our stars through their social media account. We watch 24/7 news because we want to know what Donald Trump is going to say next and, unfortunately, we seem to be addicted to the feeling of hopelessness that comes with opening a picture in WhatsApp to see what the dead body looked like.

Maybe we've always been like that, maybe we've always wanted to see the firm realities of life, and now we have a chance to see it en masse.

Where would my father have seen this many depictions of crime scenes and heard so many stories about organ harvesting in the 1960s? I can imagine he's seen enough to make up for it, whether he likes it or not, because of the thoughtlessness of people sharing information pictures and videos.

There's a theory shared in a number of circles that the impression of a wave of sexual crimes could be a function of better reporting.

To expound, murder is a statistic that was always easy to compare because it was very well documented and widely reported on. Other crimes have traditionally never been given the kind of attention which a 'share' button can generate, so there's not actually a higher incidence of the crime but rather, a higher incidence of reporting.

And reporting, in this sense, not being official reports to the authorities but rather eyewitness accounts sent by voice note. The idea was not to dismiss the crime wave but rather to point to deep sociological causes of the crime. Instead of there being a crime wave, it's possible that we're just being better informed of an actual norm.

To get back on track, the new ultra-reported news, I find, brings an overwhelming feeling of despair that gets stronger every day, because you can't hide from the bad news.

I don't want to be an ostrich, but I do want to choose to be hopeful for even one day without the graphic realities of my country being sent to my phone in the form of a snuff film or a sexually graphic video.

I find the gleeful indulgence in the macabre to be unsettling, and even more so because it grows more prevalent every day.

Fear is good; it's really our mind informing us of the safest route to take to survival. But when we as human beings are brought to a level where we're driven by a primitive need to just survive, that's when it gets dangerous.

Mass fear and fearmongering are always the precursor to the populace looking to a strong leader with radical ideals to direct their fear and convert it into anger and action.

Sharing has become so easy that we do it without much thought or care nowadays. Spare a thought for those who don't want to share in everything you want to partake in.


- Andre Burnett runs Muse, a brand company, and has an addiction to productivity apps.