We- me­dia poses chal­lenge to civ­i­liza­tion

Global Times - - Front Page - By Fang Ning The au­thor is di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence at the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences. opin­ion@ glob­al­times. com. cn

Iwas present at the Yaroslavl Fo­rum in Rus­sia years ago, and a num­ber of politi­cians, in­clud­ing then Rus­sian president Dmitry Medvedev, brought up the neg­a­tive ef­fects of self­me­dia, or we- me­dia, on so­ci­ety. They noted that the in­for­ma­tion spread by self- me­dia has per­plexed the gov­ern­ment and so­ci­ety, neg­a­tively af­fect­ing so­cial sol­i­dar­ity and even threat­en­ing so­cial sta­bil­ity. Some politi­cians even spec­u­lated that if this goes on, it may lead to the de­cay of hu­man civ­i­liza­tion.

In­ter­est­ingly, some in­flu­en­tial schol­ars on in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at the fo­rum were not in­ter­ested in the con­cerns of these politi­cians, only fo­cus­ing on their own agen­das.

From my point of view, the de­cay of the civ­i­liza­tion that con­cerns politi­cians can be in­ter­preted as fol­lows.

First, the spread of non- pro­fes­sional and fake in­for­ma­tion. As we- me­dia has emerged and be­come im­por­tant, mas­sive amounts of non- pro­fes­sional and false in­for­ma­tion has hence been spread and even tends to over­whelm pro­fes­sional voices. This was unimag­in­able when elites con­trolled the me­dia and a high bar was set by high costs. Gre­sham's law that bad money drives out good is grad­u­ally tak­ing ef­fect in the de­vel­op­ment of self- me­dia.

Dis­cus­sions over ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied ( GM) food are an ex­am­ple. GM food is sup­posed to be a cut­ting- edge sci­en­tific is­sue, but a large amount of in­for­ma­tion about the topic comes from non- pro­fes­sion­als, and as a re­sult, fac­ing over­whelm­ing pres­sure from pub­lic opin­ion, pro­fes­sion­als are quite cau­tious and even choose to keep silent on the is­sue. This goes against the de­vel­op­ment of sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy. While sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy be­comes in­creas­ingly com­pli­cated and pro­fes­sion­ally seg­mented, the pub­lic of­ten gets in­for­ma­tion from non­pro­fes­sion­als. Frankly speak­ing, suc­cinct and con­cise views from non- pro­fes­sion­als are bet­ter un­der­stood and ac­cepted by a pub­lic that has lit­tle pro­fes­sional knowl­edge.

Sec­ond, the spread of neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion and sen­ti­ments. In tra­di­tional mass com­mu­ni­ca­tions, in­clud­ing fam­ily and school ed­u­ca­tional sys­tems, neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion and sen­ti­ments are strictly re­stricted and even pro­hib­ited. But the era of self- me­dia has lib­er­ated neg­a­tive mes­sages, which have be­come a sig­nif­i­cant part of self- me­dia com­mu­ni­ca­tions and can­not be put un­der ef­fec­tive con­trol.

Since our child­hood, par­ents and teach­ers crit­i­cize us for neg­a­tive sen­ti­ments, and en­cour­age us to be more pos­i­tive and for­ward- look­ing. But self­me­dia, to­gether with the anony­mous na­ture of on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tions, has given rise to dif­fer­ent com­plaints in

so­ci­ety.

It is nat­u­ral to have and vent neg­a­tive sen­ti­ments in our per­sonal and so­ci­etal life. But it is in­ap­pro­pri­ate to spread neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion on so­cial me­dia plat­forms.

Third, the spread of ex­trem­ism and ex­treme sen­ti­ments. Since the emer­gence of the state, ex­trem­ism has been strongly re­jected and con­trolled by lead­ers and main­stream so­ci­ety, and the spread of ex­trem­ism is re­garded as so­cial cri­sis. But ex­trem­ism and ex­treme sen­ti­ments have found chan­nels to dis­sem­i­nate in the era of we- me­dia, and some­times even pose a chal­lenge to the main­stream ide­ol­ogy and so­cial or­der.

Ex­trem­ists' and even ter­ror­ists' use of so­cial me­dia plat­forms to ex­pand their clout is now a prob­lem fac­ing the whole world. Al­though a num­ber of fac­tors have con­trib­uted to the emer­gence and spread of ex­trem­ism, self- me­dia's role in the dis­sem­i­na­tion of ex­treme sen­ti­ments and re­marks can­not be over­looked. It seems rad­i­cal ideas can at­tract more at­ten­tion on so­cial me­dia plat­forms. The “eye­ball econ­omy” is func­tion­ing as an en­gine for the spread of ex­treme sen­ti­ments and re­marks in the era of self- me­dia.

The above three prob­lems emerged with the rise of we- me­dia, and have be­come in­creas­ingly un­con­trol­lable in the era of self- me­dia. Some politi­cians have al­ready sensed this trend, and re­gard it as an un­prece­dented threat and chal­lenge to the so­cial or­der and even hu­man civ­i­liza­tion. Their con­cerns de­serve our at­ten­tion.

Illustration: Liu Rui/ GT

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