Antisocial media


It ought to have been laughable. Pro-Israeli supporters took to social media to demand a passenger boycott of Virgin Atlantic because the airline had served a menu that described a couscous-style salad as being “inspired by the flavors of Palestine”. What happened next would have been surprising in a world where common sense prevailed. Virgin Atlantic apologized profusely saying it had not wished to cause offense and then promptly changed the name of the dish to “couscous salad”.

But, unfortunately, common sense is being hounded out of existence thanks to the now disproportionate influence of social media. When the World Wide Web first emerged, it was celebrated as providing a platform for the sharing of information and opinion. It was fondly imagined it would liberate discussion and the exchange of ideas. And indeed the early messaging platforms such as Reddit did seem to be fulfilling that ambition, though almost from the start there were those who tried to use rudeness and personal attacks to make their points.

But the concept of a free flow of facts and opinion has been hijacked, thanks in large measure to the growth of more efficient, user-friendly media such as Facebook and Twitter. The most unlikely development is the emergence of individuals who make a living as “influencers” thanks to their large online following. In return for payment, these people either openly or subtly extol the virtues of corporate products and services. It is the online equivalent of Hollywood’s “product placement,” whereby branded goods appear in films generally associated with the heroes.

Corporate advertisers are steadily moving their spending away from printed newspapers, magazines, TV and radio to social media, where thanks to sophisticated, and frankly alarming data-mining, the likes of Facebook can target advertising directly to the consumers most likely to respond to it. The old scattergun approach of pre-Internet marketing is a dying product.

This explains in part why Virgin Atlantic reacted so swiftly to the pro-Israeli protests about their Palestinian reference. The default corporate position is to defer to the loudest noise coming from social media.

What this ignores, of course, is that the storms of protests that are brewed up there are very often phony, not simply in their content but in the degree of genuine support they attract. Hurrying through the daily torrent of postings, a social media user has only to click a button to like a message which he or she may not actually have read completely, let alone considered for any length of time. What is worse is the reaction when anyone joins a thread and expresses a contrary opinion. Global warming remains the most awful example. The degree of hateful invective is frightening as leading users turn the crowd onto the alien in its midst. This online fascistic thuggery is a long way from what the originators of the web hoped for their creation.

Long before the Internet, Zionists had developed an efficient network of hypersensitive correspondents who would write scores of letters to protest, as anti-Semitism, any media criticism of the state of Israel. This network has moved easily and eagerly to social media. It now seeks to terrorize businesses and individuals to make them conform to the finest detail of the Zionist worldview, even to when it comes to the naming of an airline salad.