Sep 9, 2010 - Issue 392
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BlackCommentator.com: Gloom and Doom, and Internet Hysteria - The African World By Bill Fletcher, Jr., BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board

   
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The circumstances of the Shirley Sherrod case highlighted a very dangerous contemporary problem.  The racism and demagoguery represented by the circulation of the edited speech was obvious.  What I want to emphasize here is that there was an immediate jumping to conclusions by the Obama administration, the NAACP and many other observers, at least for the first several hours.  Yet this jumping to conclusions was not simply an intellectual act.  There were practical steps taken based on misinformation and panic, specifically the firing of Sherrod and her denunciation by many people of otherwise good will.

The Internet, by providing a means for almost instantaneous news and opinion to billions of people, brings with it little time for reflection.  It also brings with it the massive proliferation of misinformation, irrespective of intent.  In the days before the Internet, you could read an article in a magazine or newspaper, and perhaps make a copy of it and mail it (or later fax it) to someone else.  You might even choose to write a letter to the editor in response.

This is no longer the case.  Now, it is far more common to quickly review—rather than read—something that comes across the Internet and then hit the “Forward” button sending it to one or another list.  You might also post the article to Facebook or on your personal blog.  All these steps before you even know whether the piece is accurate or newsworthy.

A few weeks ago an article from The New Yorker [Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama by Jane Mayer] made its way around the Internet.  In essence it tells the story of deeply reactionary billionaires who are and have been funding various right-wing initiatives, and are, themselves, deeply anti-Obama.  What struck me was that the article was circulated as if this is somehow new information.  The article, and the way that it was circulated, was the equivalent of someone circulating a piece announcing:  The core of the sun burns at 27 million degrees Fahrenheit and could extinguish all life on Earth!

Not only should this article not surprise anyone but it should not be left to stand alone.  Yes, there are many people who do not realize that the political Right has deep pockets.  And, certainly, if you wanted to use this article as part of a study group or a speech to a mass audience, that would be great and informative.  Yet, for progressives this should not be new and it should not be announced as if the world is coming to an end.  In the 1930s FDR characterized people such as the Koch brothers as “economic royalists,” and these same sorts of people conspired to overthrow FDR through a military coup.  There is nothing new about such forces and their hatred for even those who wish to preserve capitalism, but through politically liberal means.

For too many progressives the Internet has led to something of a frenzy when it comes to information.  Rather than providing us with the material we need to both reflect and strategize, we start to feel overwhelmed, and particularly overwhelmed with bad news.

So, what do we do?  Since we cannot and should not think about shutting off the Internet, we need to think very differently about how we use it.  While I see many journalistic exposes on the Internet, I see little that helps to break down information about the world in ways that are actually all that helpful.  I often find myself asking the question:  “Ok, so, what should we do?”

What might be helpful would be taking it a bit more carefully, at least when it comes to circulating material.  Perhaps we should think about how we use what we come across and what audiences most benefit from what material. 

More than anything else, however, I feel that we should put a lot more attention on discussions of strategy than the circulation of one journalistic expose after another.   We need to recognize, for sure, that progressive forces are in a difficult place, and that Black folks in particular are drowning.  But we have known that.  The question that is of particular relevance is ‘what should be done?’  Rather than reaffirming, time and again, that ‘…the end is near…’ how about a bit more attention on how the hell we get out of this situation?

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president ofTransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice   (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.

 
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