I have to defend the last thing on earth I thought I would ever defend—Twitter journalism! I’ve been following events in Ukraine, and while I don’t feel like I can comment on events themselves, I can comment on how people are reacting to those events, and reacting to reactions to those events (wheels within wheels, thanks, Internet). David Stern is arguing over at National Geographic online about the Twitter response to Odessa and how it’s poisoning the well for anyone who wants to know the “reality” of Ukraine.” I think he’s being a bit too harsh on the medium and the message and a little too optimistic about the message’s consumers.
First, the good news. The Internet may add more noise to the media landscape, but that doesn’t mean that older forms of media are more objective, or that they necessarily got the facts out at all. I mean, the Weekly World News was on paper, and I don’t think a fact was ever printed in it.* Seriously, though, most papers and radio shows and television shows promote some sort of editorial spin on events, because that’s what sells. People gravitate towards messengers who give them the message they want to hear. I doubt that Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media are destroying the construction of some form of good, objective truth. I’m not sure it was there in the first place, and if we’re going to try to approach that standard anyway, it’s better to do so with a system that allows users more access to sources and almost instant correction. (After all, on one hand it’s bad that Twitter users can spread rumors, yet on the other hand it’s bad that Russia is restricting independent media—presumably because it can then completely control its citizens’ media access.)
Now the bad news. Stern is being way too optimistic when he assumes Twitter users give a fuck about the actual events in Ukraine because they want some sort of reality fed to them, even if it’s a reality that confirms their biases. A lot of these Twitter folk, at least the Anglophone ones, don’t really give a fuck about Ukraine but see Ukraine as a sort of episode in a longer story starring themselves. Ukraine is a point along the road to the final conflagration, in which the defenders of liberty overthrow the corrupt American/EU governments. This narrative is a toxic mix of upset, in which hatred of a supposedly participatory political system combines with the desire to be a movie-style hero—and it’s a narrative that stars some white American guys (and possibly some white British guys), not anybody in Eastern Europe. The Ukrainians are the extras who get killed in the background while the hero outruns the firestorm, daughter/yellow Labrador in his arms. Even Putin himself, supposedly the great threat to the world order, only exists as a white, manly reproach to Obama’s oppressive black homo rule.
This narcissism is also behind the Anglophone debate over whether the Russian side or the Ukrainian side is more full of Nazis. It’s much better that Nazis are abhorred than celebrated, of course, but calling someone a Nazi has become the equivalent of playground cooties or calling someone a faggot back in the unenlightened days when I went to school. It doesn’t have to do with hatred of fascism or anti-Semitism—plenty of people accuse their hate objects of being Nazis in one Tweet and freak out about the world Zionist conspiracy in the next. I think it mostly has to do with the desire to be a hero in one’s own movie, the desire to fight full-on evil that is always threatening, but also always just weak enough to make you look good. I mean, Indiana Jones killed a lot of Nazis, right? Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a bunch of people you could heroically kill while being awesome with your magic whip? If you could be Indy, too? It’s too bad all those old Nazis are dead—since they’re not around anymore, we’ll just have to invent them. Why aren’t we fighting them? I blame Obama!
* Except for Bat Boy, that motherfucker was real.