Sunday, May 28, 2017

When Chat Doesn't Work

In the last couple of weeks, the folks at Channel One (ARD, public German TV) started up a project.  Basically, they want their news folks to go and have open dialog and conversation on social media....discussing...well, it's basically unknown what the handful of journalists attempted to chat on.

What they found after a while (probably less than 15 minutes each) were the insults of 'whore', 'criminal', 'traitor', etc.

There's a fairly long description of the experience which mostly laid out harsh commentary which was dished out to the intellectual journalists of ARD.  Obviously, if you read the whole thing....they really avoided letting you know the topic which they jumped into.  My humble guess?  Something controversial.  The fact that it was not raised in this piece of more than obvious.

So most of this fairly in-depth piece by ARD dwells on social media and that it's loaded with conflict.  The ARD intention?  They wanted to build some discussion bridge with constructive talk.  One almost gets the image of a carrot-stick approach to get positive words and dialog out there within the public sector.

Why?  That's a mystery for the most part.

Journalists are typically hired to go and report on events and facts.  They typically aren't there to lead a discussion.  I can think of some jobs where where you would lead a public group to some chat-position, but this is typically not a job for reporters.  To me, this mission was a bit hopeless.

So the journalists came back....with results.  They found hatred, lying, loudness of topics, slander, etc.

They also found that there are 30 million Germans using Facebook....which is more than the total population of Germany's two most popular states (B-W, and NRW).  They also found that youths (16-to-24) are heavy users....almost 90-percent.

My impression after reading the summary.....these reporters have walked into an area of the 'jungle' that they are totally unfamiliar with and they may have lost perception of their audience.

First, on the topic of conversations....there are typically four types in Germany today. You have the intellectual-to-intellectual type where two folks are sipping wine, and talking high-hat politics and they seem fairly agreeable on half of the topics.  You have the working-class-guy with his buddy...who talk mostly over sports, work, and occasional politics.  You have the teenie or youth conversation where it's mostly over TV, movies, promis, or school.  And you have the frustration topic room where people are mostly angry and hyped up against something (either immigrants, taxes, cost of living, or unfairness in life).

Second, social media has finally allowed people to find like-minded people....some angry over politics....some angry over taxes....and slug out this frustration.  If some idiot were to attempt a peaceful talk or try to reason with these folks, it's a WASTE of time. This perception among intellectuals that you can change the attitudes of people is mostly something that existed prior to the 1980s.  I don't see this reasoning working well in today's German environment.

Third, why exactly are journalists with ARD being used in this fashion?  Social media combat enthusiasts?  This seems like some fake mission drawn up by the leadership of ARD with some purpose but it's really not clear.  They may perceive that fake news is the trend with social media and they want to attack fake news.  If so, they might want to go back and ask where this all started (Russian election in the fall of 2011....the Russians weren't prepared for the social media campaign that appeared out of nowhere).

Finally, I come to this odd issue which I see a fair bit as I walk around Germany.  There are a fair number of people who have lived in a fairly good and comfortable life, with certain social and political views attached to them.   If you took those folks and pushed them into a pub of Hartz-IV welfare folks, and working-class poverty types....discussing expenditures of government resources, migrants, and would not be a pleasant experience.  Just one German talking to another, but from a totally different walk of life.  This idea of having an open dialog generally only works in an absolute and precise mixture of participants.

The social media topic?  I think it's going to be a long hot summer if this is a prioritized job for the ARD journalists.

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