Contesting Current Affairs: The Internet as a platform for modern debate

Posted on the 2nd December 2014 by Max, Summit Coordinator

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Contesting Current Affairs: the Internet as a platform for modern debate

Have you perceived a shift in focus on your Facebook newsfeed recently? Whereas in the past, the social media site was saturated with the oversharing of needless information, nowadays a simple scroll down the webpage will reveal the sharing of controversial news articles, statuses voicing an opinion on a certain event, or a ‘comment war’ on a recent issue of debate. Interactive websites now have the ability to adopt a more serious role, and are now not only a home for videos of the most recent feline YouTube star, but platforms for modern debate.

Online headline fix

Firstly, the internet’s growing relationship with current affairs comes as the printed news continues to suffer at the hands of technological advancement. We are increasingly reading our headlines online; the younger generation often rely solely on websites, especially Twitter, for their news fix. Moreover, apps such as BBC Breaking News further negate the need for the press in its traditional form. However, not only has the internet changed the way in which we receive and absorb news, it has also radically altered how we respond to these polemical issues of debate.

A new dialogue

An active dialogue exists between us and current affairs which would be impossible with the internet. With the constant presence of social media, news websites with comment functions, and opinion blogs, no news is unquestioned or undiscussed. This virtual ability to react to news stories means that the sharing of an article, for instance, can lead to TV shows being axed, opinion on a political figure radically changing, or a small charity suddenly becoming a household name. Everything from breaking news, such as the Ferguson riots, to videos like Bob Geldof’s most recent reinvention of Band Aid, is discussed, criticised and picked apart.

The new ‘editor’s letter’

In the past, the only ‘recorded’ reactions to newspaper articles would have been voiced in letters to the editor; pieces of writing carefully honed by the writer to ensure the best chance of publication. The ‘editor’s letter’ of our generation is embodied in a heated debate in the comment section, or the symbolic sharing of a controversial article on Facebook. The internet also permits the permanent publication of rash, throwaway comments. Whereas an editor’s letter would have been properly thought through in terms of its stance on the issue, the impulsive nature of some virtual opinions can eventually backfire on the author.

Real vs. virtual

This new culture of contesting the news is doubled-edged. There is no doubt that the internet encourages and nurtures both free speech and independent thought; it is a platform where anyone, anywhere can have their say. However, is this culture extinguishing real passion for current and affairs and the issues of debate which they spark off? Before the web took on a truly interactive function, some of the only ways to show support for a certain cause was to attend a rally or demonstration, or donate your hard-earned cash. Nowadays we can ‘show our support’ simply by clicking once to retweet or share. Countless social media users who comment on news articles may never literally voice their opinion on the matter. Ultimately, the internet, whilst still encouraging debate and discussion in the virtual sphere, could be diminishing demonstration and dispute in the real world.

By Izzy Stephenson, WES 2015 Communications Team member

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