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Will the Era of "DIY Journalism" Save Our Privacy Rights?

It seems the only measure of a journalist's efficiency in the 2020s is the number of hours or days it takes them to regurgitate something someone said in a Tweet.
Bob Leggitt
1 January 2023

Q. Why is privacy dead?

A. Because journalism is dead.

It's true. You can blame the collapse of privacy rights on many other factors, but if journalism still amounted to anything more than a propaganda-pump for hire, those other factors would never have gained a footing.

The public - traditionally the media's bread and butter - have always needed a powerful press to hold corrupt systems to account. But the Internet Age has seen the public's diminishing news-consumption-spend comprehensively outbid by the exact corrupt bodies that the press once sought to expose. Result? A U-turn in allegiance. The media no longer work for us. They work for corporations, politicians, NGOs - anyone who will backhand them lump sums to have a message disseminated via a supposedly neutral voice.

But we're slowly waking up.

Ten years ago, if you searched Twitter for the phrase "journalism is dead", you'd see about 25 occurrences per week. That was alarming enough. Today, however, it takes less than six hours for that same number of occurrences to amass. Okay, so Twitter is about twice as busy today as it was a decade back, but with an offset to remove the effect of growth from the calculations, that's still a fourteen-fold increase in the prevalence of our sorry-ass "journalism is dead" iteration. A 1,400% real-terms rise.

The problem is not so much the noise. Not so much the niche journalists' unmitigated applause for corporate cyberstalkers. Not so much the tech publications' whitewash advertorials for the shitty products whose vendors will comprise the next generation of data thieves.

The problem is more the silence. We eventually learn through the grapevine that 99% of tech products (including essential Web-access tools like browsers and apps) are near-crippled by the bloat of spyware. Even today, much of that spyware breaches legal consent requirements.

But find me a professional tech journalist whose 'reviews' of any such products ever mentioned, let alone criticised, that spyware. Find me a significant news outlet that ever exposed a corporate data scam BEFORE the perp got caught and ceased the activity. Find me a mainstream TV or radio news programme that ever called bullshit on a tech monster without a public interest litigant basically forcing them. Find me an IT magazine show that ever said:

"You know what?... Don't find us on Facebook. Stop using Facebook. Tell your family to stop using it. Tell your colleagues to stop using it. It is an unmitigated den of stalking, oppression, brainwashing, aggressive surveillance and psychological abuse. It breaks laws as a business model - to the point that it has a preset annual budget of $billions solely to pay fines. It was originally set up to grade women on their physical attributes, by a man who referred to the site's first users as 'dumb fucks'. Why, unless I detested the notion of your very existence, would I EVER advise you to 'fInD Us On FaCeBoOk'???"

You won't find that. What you'll find instead is...

"Hey, there's this exciting new shit called the Metaverse that UNPREVENTABLY puts your entire life on someone else's computer, by proxy of camera-clad weirdos and perverts in the street. And the 'someone else' whose computer will UNPREVENTABLY snoop your entire life by proxy of camera-clad weirdos and perverts, has only broken data protection laws about 48,000 times, so there's really no reason at all to raise any particular concerns about this interesting new technology."

It's only when we begin to compare our own mental scrapbook on these horrendous corporations' endless infractions and warped mindsets, with the news media's complete unwillingness to negatively report on them until they are actually in the dock, that we see what's clearly a trail of corruption and complicity extending back years.

Because tech companies have to physically reach into your space in order to steal your data, it's not difficult for anyone with technical knowledge to see when they're breaking the law. Almost any unnecessary collection of your personal data without your consent is illegal in Europe. And yet in the era of Big Corruption, when regulators have been alerted to clear violations of simple legislation, we've seen them steadily drift towards a predictable, stock-in-trade statement. A non-committal and perfectly useless conclusion that the activity, quote: "may be unlawful".

Yes, we have entered a pure, Pythonesque realm of governance in which the people whose job it is to enforce the law, apparently cannot tell, after six months of headscratching, whether or not the law was actually broken.

"After a number of complaints we have thoroughly investigated this matter and conclusively determined that Google's practises MAY be in breach of the GDPR."

MAY be. Which conveniently translates to:

"We don't need to take any action, because our conclusion does not in fact confirm that a problem exists."

And that's where the buck stops, until some impassioned seeker of justice takes the regulator to court. That's right, in some jurisdictions you now have to sue the regulator before the regulator will even entertain the idea that an IRREPRESSIBLE SERIAL OFFENDER WITH AN ACTUAL LAWBREAKING BUDGET could possibly be doing anything wrong. That's the level of corruption we're amidst.

And yet, wall to wall silence across the entirety of visible journalism.

If you want real dirt on a tech industry surveillance scandal you have to spend three quarters of an hour digging through the most obscure corners of the Web to unearth some PhD study on ResearchGate with 850 PDF downloads. I find it mindblowing that lone students could repeatedly expose global surveillance scandals, one after another, all totally blind-eyed by regulators, without a single journalist ever picking one up. But that's the world we now live in.

So does this crisis of journalistic competence and integrity simply herald the end of privacy? Or will it bring the end of the professional journalist before we get quite that far? Well, if there's one thing the Internet age has taught us, it's that everybody wants to be our news source. Search engines, portals, blogs, email providers, social platforms - even browsers are now trying to muscle in on the territory. And the evolution of news dissemination is slowly rendering professional journalists pointless.

Twitter, especially, has taught some of us that when social media incorporates good search facilities and historical integrity (i.e. the content is hard-dated and uneditable beyond a short corrections period), there is little left for pro journalists to actually do. Sweeping improvements to Twitter's currently clumsy search interface could drive that realisation much farther and wider. Could show the whole world exactly how little modern journalists do.

Which is what? Which is: search Twitter. That's modern journalism.

Even when they have the will to deliver something beyond partisan propaganda, pro journos today are almost invariably reciting semi-viral 280s that zipped down a Twitter feed earlier in the day. Indeed, it seems the only measure of a journalist's efficiency in the 2020s is the number of hours or days it takes them to regurgitate something someone said in a Tweet. Many of their articles are literally collages of Tweets. If that's not admitting your own pointlessness I don't know what is.

There will doubtless now be a period during which the community press attempt to eke out yet another cushy number importing news from Twitter into Mastodon, but even at this early stage their lazy asses appear to be losing that race to random, unpaid members of the public.

You can mute Musky-boy and his megachud cronies without feeling the need to prostrate yourself in reverence before the entire diaspora of professional journalism.

It does appear that online communities are steadily recognising the average news agency for what it is: a band of glorified aggregators who cannot function without a perpetual diet of other people's brainwork to repeat to the public verbatim. A change lies on the horizon. The era of DIY journalism - in which an unpaid community makes and disseminates its own discoveries - is nearing the edge of our grasp.

Whilst I find it somewhat unnerving that I agree in any significant way with Elon Musk, I love the principle of DIY journalism. The sooner we can send professional journalism to Coventry and take charge of our own, unfiltered news grapevine, the better.

A mass loss of public faith in professional journalism is also likely to drive a growth in scepticism towards parallel propaganda-machines such as NGO cartels - another frontline player in cybertech's brainwashing and lobbying assault.

The modus operandi of your average NGO is largely the same as that of a classic modern media house. They're both, at least in the public eye, production lines of panting blog articles which masquerade as independent "news" or "opinion", but are bankrolled by invisible benefactors with deep pockets and very specific messages to deliver. And in relation to the tech industry, they're even propagandising on behalf of the same people. The NGOs often go further, incorporating direct lobbying and maybe a litigation wing, but the public don't see that.

It's fair to assume that if the bottom drops out of pro journalism, then unless the NGOs can find a new way to disseminate propaganda, they'll naturally find it harder to shill for the tech industry. They're just too perfect a carbon copy of media spin to escape comparison.

Our privacy rights have already been ravaged by powerful propaganda and shilling/lobbying systems, which the media have met with a wall of complicit silence. Many abuses have been normalised. And whatever happens, the damage already done would be hard to reverse.

But especially if profits (and thus propaganda budgets) wane at the top end of the tech industry, the shift away from trusted, professional journalists towards a collective public voice could result in a dramatic weakening of cybertech's brainwashing arm. With the public gleaning information through community osmosis rather than from appointed propagandists, there's a real chance that we could at least see some deceleration in the "grinding down of our privacy expectations", as former Microsoft privacy exec Caspar Bowden once put it.

So let's use our brains on this one. It's possible to dislike Elon Musk, without automatically worshipping every news industry attention-hog who opposes him. It's okay to side with neither Elon Musk nor the news corps he's currently at war with. You can mute Musky-boy and his megachud cronies without feeling the need to prostrate yourself in reverence before the entire diaspora of professional journalism. They ALL have an agenda, and at no point does it entail serving our best interests.

Where there's money, there's bullshit. And that rule holds true across the full breadth of the political spectrum.

The lack of money in a network of DIY journalism would immensely reduce the motivation for lies. Keeping the money out could be difficult. There's already a queue of sweaty-handed tech bros begging 'John Mastodon' to take their cash. And it would be insanely naive to imagine that none of the new Fediverse servers opened in the wake of Musk's Twitter bid are funded by preds or feds. But it's much, much harder for corporations, media or authorities to propagandise a Web that is increasingly fragmenting than one that is slowly being acquired by a single cartel. Fragmentation is bad news for brainwashing and good news for privacy. And that's where we seem to be heading.