INSTEAD OF READING THIS article by Julia Baird on ‘trolling’, read this essay by Jason Wilson on industrial moderation.

For when Baird writes:

“This is what your father thinks of you.” “Your father died of shame.” An ugly, familiar phrase. It does not get much lower. Or sicker.

She is correct, of course. There are people out there who have abhorrent views, a bullying, intimidating, hateful tone, and the lack of manners to spew it out into a medium for all to see or hear. The most powerful of them, though, get paid for it. And Baird herself works for an institution that benefits from the cycle.

Baird’s noting the nastiness of the famous line about fathers dying of shame, without acknowledging that the reference is to the use of the phrase not once but twice, first by Alan Jones AO on one of the most influential talkback programmes in the country, the next by the Opposition Leader in Parliament. It should be familiar to those of us who can remember farther back in time than the one or two or three months of the political cycle.

This is blame-shifting at its worst; sheeting this home to ‘anonymity’, or to the ‘someone else’s problem’ of a social media platform, rather than to the media institutions who profit from it. It’s not acknowledging that professional journalism has any blame whatsoever for the propagation of extremely unpleasant speech, and it’s nothing but intellectual dishonesty. It’s the kind of rank hypocrisy that led the Daily Telegraph to ‘run a campaign’ recently on ‘trolling’, while its News Limited (as it was then) stablemate the Herald Sun kept a man on salary whose job, it seems, is offensive conduct reinforcing, encouraging or emboldening racial prejudice.

I’m sure Baird sees her job as utterly different to Bolt’s. It isn’t. If there was ever a status or function difference between reporters, opinionists, political correspondents and racists-for-hire, it’s disappearing into the new CMSes of clickthrough-led media production. The Sydney Morning Herald, in any case, ought to be a bit careful preaching about naming names.

Wilson writes that the changing industrial landscape of media institutions pushes the moderative pressure, and the stress of dealing with hate, onto the worst paid of the employees in each house, while the pressure to keep (profitably) infuriating the readership keeps building:

At the same time, the topics that promise especially bitter, polarized debate, tempt editors with the traffic and comments they can attract. Sarah rattles off a list of themes she knows she will have a long comment queue—and that editors will keep publishing: “Israel and Palestine, Gaza … anything on climate change, the science of climate change. Anything published by one of the ­climate-change skeptics. But then anything published by a climate-change believer as well. Anything about refugees, you know, asylum seekers, border control, that sort of stuff. Anything sort of what could be loosely described as a feminist article, so you know, like Slutwalk.”

The italics are mine.



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