Week 13 New Media, -the Culmination of a Poststructuralist Reality?

Chia and Synnott’s entire chapter on new media and PR was very interesting to me, mostly because they mentioned Astroturfing and addressed it as unethical. This is in line with my earlier findings on astroturfing and google bombing. Chia and Synnott describe what must be seen as rather obvious to my generation of digital natives: the proliferation of digital media, empowerment of the individual, PR practitioners taking up these new platforms despite any reservations, and decentralisation of the construction of meaning. I do not dispute their claims, but I would like to highlight an increasingly worrying trend both in new and old media: that of information warfare and manipulation. Yes, the RANT category is back!

The most foreshadowing thing about Chia and Synnott’s chapter is that while astroturfing is said to predate new media, they give no examples of said such practices. Apparently, the number of fake entities sprouting proselytising rhetoric and passing it off as populist opinion has been around for some time already. However, digitalisation and various platforms have made such content generation simply easier. My personal opinion can be summed up in one statement describing any phenomena of opinions on the Internet “And nothing of value was lost”. This is not to say that the media of the internet is not worth anything, simply that things of a digital nature, but property of being infinitely(near infinitely, given data loss) replicable, have their unique aura in reception totally lost.

As Luddite despot Fu Manchu describes it, new media has a “transient internet culture”. According to Baudrillard, in the third order of simulacra, where the original and copy are indistinguishable, originality is a meaningless concept. The hyperreality attained though computing code, that is infinitely replicable because it is reducible to mathematical algorithms, is one where credibility of source has become meaningless. This is further reinforced by Baudrillard’s proposal that computer language, being the epitome of simplification, makes advertising meaningless.

Allow me to explain this in simpler terms through which you might be able to grasp the implications thereof.

We know it takes nothing but a small effort to start an internet identity. Twitter, facebook, blogging services and various media networks. The only thing they need is an email address. The vast majority of free email services do not enforce any identity checks. Therefore, everyone on the internet with enough of a brain to use a proxy is effectively anonymous. Hence, anyone can claim to be anyone, or make any claim about anything they produce, and because of the sheer and overwhelming number of messages being transmitted, there are hardly any messages that can be effectively verified, or the sincerity of which established. Even Senior Ministers crack stupid jokes on their facebooks. The lack of formal establishment and intimate human touch means messages could simply be retroactively retracted as “jokes” or otherwise dismissed. Further, there isn’t so much as identity theft/hijacking as there is the constant exchange of masks in Carnevale. It is therefore no exaggeration that nothing on the Internet can be taken at face value. Even the prime minister of Singapore is not immune to such impersonation.

When this is combined with the already present scepticism towards marketing messages and astroturfing(which predates the internet, apparently), we have a very volative, razor thin construction of meaning. Not only is everything on the Internet viewed with a narcissistic preference for self-gratification, PR messages which attempt to construe meaning outside of these personalised reality simulations do not cut any ice. Therefore, the logical conclusion to to tact on PR messages to user’s existing personalised simulations. In other words, PR messages have to dissimulate from their own rhetoric. I believe that attempts to use the Internet to create ubiquitous PR messages will only result in further meaninglessness. The key to dissimulation, based on my experience, is to dissuade from the instantaneous exploration of the Internet. Therefore, a physical, non-virtual medium is necessary. The best example I can think of this is Burger King’s $1 burget offer, which can be considered a return to second order simulation from the third order.

Within the Internet’s simplified language of computer code, messages of proselytisation lose their meaning because of the myriads of other personalised messages more agreeable to the user, or the user’s own constructions. The only recourse is to dissimulate, discarding the message of advertising in exchange for something closer to reality. Therefore, the poststructuralist reality is one where special offers and discounts offered through online platforms will work better than any other method. I intend to include this in my Feiyue PR proposal.

Further, with regards to poststructuralist notion of meaning being a function of a structure, I note that an appeal to the guttural, the tactile and undeniably real constructs of meaning is necessary. With Burger King, this was the taste of their food. With Feiyue, this can take the form of letting many media outlets test out their shoes. Although only these persons would receive a “meaning” from these experiences, it is better than merely letting meaning be passed through the gutter of media reproduction. The poststructuralist deconstruction of meaning is not one which can be escaped from, but perhaps this is the best way to compromise.

Nonetheless, the more worrying aspect is that, despite the scepticism towards online media, a number of organisations, including governments, are actively involved in manipulating the opinion of the masses through various outlets on the Internet. According to Chomsky, the establishment of notions of “terrorism” by governments and government-link organisations worldwide, is simply a manipulation of public opinion, in order for existing governments to crack down on dissent in their own systems, or to pass legislations which would enable them to do so. This information warfare took place a lot on mainstream media outlets, especially through mainstream media’s online presences. I cannot say that I myself am free of the insipid label-sticking of such information warfare, and am deeply concerned as to how to receive credible information without relying on mainstream media, which, through their agenda-setting powers, can convince myself and fellow citizens to allow greater curtailing of my freedoms of expression.. I guess nothing beats being incredibly well-read and discerning, and hearing as many alternative narratives as possible.

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