2016: The Year the News Broke
Writing a diary of 2016’s social media highlights seemed like a good idea in the post-Christmas fog that descended about a year ago. We’d cover the viral events that would be 2016’s versions of #thedress and the Ice Bucket Challenge and maybe look for deeper understandings from them (but probably just the first bit).
Obviously the mere idea of documenting a whole year in social media is a futile exercise – everyone has their own disciplined SM experience that reflects the circles they move in and the interests they partake in, and without downloading the master socialmedia2016.zip file and uploading its contents to the blog, it’s always going to be full of holes. It will probably also be terribly parochial, focusing on British or Western issues, and in 2016 it was not the done thing to comment on subjects you had no expertise in.
Going into this year, we knew there would be an election in the US, and it seemed highly likely that there would be a referendum for the UK to leave the EU. Leave would lose and if Trump did decide to stand, he wouldn’t make it past the primaries. But both stories would, as ever, provide good opportunities for humourists and viral-seekers to have a laugh at the usual suspects before the sword fell on their defeated necks. Oh, how we laughed at the Brexit flotilla and gasped at Trump’s outbursts.
The year will also be remembered as one in which we lost some of our most beloved entertainers. We’d only just got used to the idea of a world without Lemmy when news broke of Bowie. But he was to prove the first of many, particularly for Brits, as TV, movie and music stars succumbed one by one to what started looking like a curse.
Remember the Olympics? Come on, that was great for Team GB and all its supporters. And Euro 2016? Who will forget Wales’s well deserved run and England’s comforting maintenance of its post-1966 form? We still have the capacity to be uplifted.
As 2017 waits in the wings, there’s an undeniable sense of change in the air. News and truth themselves are under threat. Social media and the internet have given the public the platforms to spout lies, but with enough credibility signallers (follower numbers, reputable sharers, inbound linkers), lies and propaganda can look, to the untrained eye, like truth and reason.
Conspiracy nuts have always existed, but have been kept under a tarpaulin because reputable sources – the quality press, academia, scientific bodies – have been able to use their official standings and platforms to counter their nonsense. And these were the bodies that good governments looked to when forming policy. Now the ropes have been shredded and the membrane between conspiracy and history, opinion and fact, is flapping in the storm. How this pans out is anyone’s guess.
There’s a joke that goes around social media along the lines of “if you’re at a pub quiz and the quizmaster says ‘What year …’ you can just write down ‘2016’ without hearing the rest of the question.” It certainly feels like a watershed year from within, but whether people who lived through 1914 or 1939 would agree that it’s momentous is open to question. Things look like going one of two ways: either truth, expertise and reason return to their rightful places after the vent-blowing of 2016; or the power of numbers from fired-up activists across the world can make the most unreasonable propositions seem true. And that’s quite a terrifying place to be.