Almost every person in the western world is connected to sources of information that tell us what is happening in the world and help us make sense of it. Previously, the sources were primarily TV, radio, and newspapers. However, in the age of the internet and dominant social media platforms, things look very different. A new Gallup/Knight Foundation study has found that 90 percent of Americans follow at least one public figure on social media such as Twitter or Instagram. They might be celebrities, journalists, academic experts, show hosts, online influencers, or business leaders, but these public figures express their own views, rather than those of an established news outlet.
According to the report, the reason for the change is not only that information is more accessible today than before the internet. Rather, it is that people have lost trust in the traditional media outlets. Accordingly, more than 70 percent of the respondents in the study said that they were following influencers online in order to get a perspective they cannot get from the legacy media, and nearly 80 percent said that they do it because they trust the ones they follow more than they trust legacy media.
Indeed, people no longer believe traditional media outlets because these channels no longer serve their purpose. Instead of providing credible information and commentary, even if leaning toward one political side more than the other, media sources now serve the moguls that own them or the party they are instructed to support. Everything is divided into camps, and the media echoes the messages that its camp wants to send out. Objective reporting, or even simply ethical reporting, is a thing of the past; it no longer exists.
Another aspect of the phenomenon is that people are looking for more personal contact. People need not only to absorb information, but also communicate with the commentator, to be able to respond and get feedback. Since they cannot get this from traditional channels, they turn to social media influencers’ personal social media accounts.
However, at the end of the day, I think it is all about ratings, including the connection with social media influencers. I do not think it can really help people make sense of the world we live in.
There was a time when I was much younger, that I spent the bulk of my time with my Kabbalah teacher, RABASH. He would always listen to the news very attentively. However, as soon as the news ended and commentators began to express their views on what was happening, he would switch off the radio (he never watched television).
As for me, I do have a TV and I am connected to the internet, but I hardly follow the news. I know what is going on in the world in broad strokes, and I have a couple of analysts whose commentary I have been following sporadically for many years, but nothing beyond that.
Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that following the news, or this or that commentator, will not change anything, and will not improve my understanding of things. Today, I understand that our world depends not on the words of this or that politician, but on the quality of the connections between people. By turning toward empathy or toward alienation, we determine our fate far more than any decision maker determines anything.
Rather than trying to make sense of a chaotic world, I think we should work on our connections, since it is precisely our disconnection from each other that causes all the chaos in today’s world. We need to understand that the world will not make sense until we reorganize the relationships among all people, and build societies where people care about each other and help each other out. In such a world, we will not try to make sense of life; we will simply enjoy it.