I was going to write about digital social media and the misplaced blame it receives for so many of our societal ills… which are getting worse (the ills, that is).
However, an event of the past week directly links to my prior post and, in my estimation, underlines, highlights and confirms my deeply held belief that our own inability to distinguish between true and false, hype and real, propaganda and news is a great danger to all of us and, in fact, threatens the democratic societies many of us would like to continue to live in.
Last week I was concerned with paid, yet undeclared, celebrity posts that touted and promoted products and services.
As I reported, in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has always been wary of such deception and in today’s enhanced digital-sharing society has taken steps to regulate such questionable behavior.
Hardly had my ramble posted when the news broke about the failure of the Fyre Festival to make good on any of its promises regarding “two transformative weekends” of total luxury and stargazing that would become the Coachella for the well-heeled millennial, as described by The New York Times:
Famous models on yachts! Exclusive island once owned by Pablo Escobar! Blink-182! Those were just some of the selling points for Fyre Festival, a supposedly opulent music weekend that was scheduled to begin in the Bahamas on Thursday, with “first-class culinary experiences and a luxury atmosphere,” along with performances by G.O.O.D. Music, Major Lazer, Migos and more. Promoted by Instagram influencers including Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski as a never-before-seen V.I.P. event, the gathering — with weekend ticket packages starting around $1,200 and topping six-figures with extras — was supposed to compete in an increasingly elaborate landscape of boutique music festivals that have sprung up in the wake of Coachella.
But when guests arrived on the island of Great Exuma for the inaugural weekend, they found something closer to “Survivor”: grounds that were woefully lacking in the promised amenities, replaced instead by dirt fields, soggy tents and folding chairs. On social media, where Fyre Festival had been sold as a selfie-taker’s paradise, accounts showed none of the aspirational A-lister excesses, with only sad sandwiches and free alcohol to placate the restless crowds. General disappointment soon turned to near-panic as the festival was canceled and attendees attempted to flee back to the mainland of Florida.
And, of course, the models and so-called A-listers who agreed to post and promote for their own profit, clearly had no plans or desire to go near the event, and are now backing away as quickly as they can without shame – there is no doubt that they are concerned about preserving the next overpaid opportunity for which to show pretended passion. Bella Hadid tweeted:
“Hey guys, I just want to address Fyre Festival…Even though this was not my project what so ever, nor was I informed about the production or process of the festival in any shape or form, I do know that it has always been out of great intent and they truly wanted all of us to have the time of our lives.”
Others were silent and tried to retroactively erase any connection: “Some, including Kendall Jenner, have removed any mention of the festival from their social feeds.”
I feel sorry for the disappointed would-be revelers who plunked down big bucks to find Worse than Woodstock, but I am troubled that we are becoming so shallow that even a hint of our ability to pretend at “reality TV” sends droves of people off a cliff like the legendary lemmings.
What makes this more interesting, to me, is that when it came to the election of the President of the United States, all the Instagramming and posting of the biggest stars, with the biggest accounts in the world, converted nary a vote… As David Jackson, a political science professor who studies the influence of celebrities on elections, explained:
…celebrities taking political positions that were popular could make those positions more popular, or celebrities taking positions that were unpopular could make those positions less unpopular. But there wasn’t a tremendous amount of data showing moving from agree to disagree or disagree to agree. In other words, a reinforcement.
And yet, look at what a few paid posts were able to do… and the mess that ensued.
This was an easy one to do due diligence on… and yet again, fake news, if you will, triumphed or should I say trumped the truth.
And that is what scares me.
You see, this is not a new phenomenon. I refer you to the story of the Cardiff Giant:
The Cardiff Giant was one of the most famous hoaxes in United States history. It was a 10-foot-tall (3.0 m) purported “petrified man” uncovered on October 16, 1869, by workers digging a well behind the barn of William C. “Stub” Newell in Cardiff, New York.
However, what makes it more dangerous is the exponential effect digital social media has on sharing… and as it exponentially increases our reach, it is also exponentially increasing our vulnerability to half-truths, lies and plain old falsehoods.
Look around you and the Fyre Festival is a benign manifestation…
Back to the Cardiff Giant and a quote that has become associated with it that is exponentially truer today… listen:
“There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Perhaps our paraphrase is … today a sucker shares every second.