By Zander Heeger

We should all be deeply disturbed by the threat of the ANC’s planned media muzzling so it may not seem like a good time to advocate another form of information filtering. Noooooo, I do not want to curb freedom of expression, so hear me out.

I am lamenting the rise of bad taste and banality in the unchecked drone of the voice of the masses. I despair at the dreary rise of the dull, the ignorant and the offensive. The social media revolution swamping the planet is just so boring. Anyone now has the opportunity to express an opinion through the internet. And anyone does. I support freedom of expression but do not care for the unsubtle expressions of everyman and his idiot on a public forum. Almost without exception, the discourse rapidly degenerates towards the lowest common denominator and you would flatter to call it drivel.

Allow me to demonstrate. News24 is one of the more popular internet news sites and has replaced the daily newspaper for many citizens. It does the job of disseminating news well enough but has no pretensions to achieve journalistic levels of excellence. Indeed, the standard of journalism is decidedly pedestrian, but that’s not my gripe. At the end of most news items there is opportunity for the readers to comment on the news item. And (shudder) they do.

What generally follows is the most horrendous twaddle. News24 evidently does not have a standard of journalistic integrity. There is no trace of a sub-editor who traditionally sets a standard of literacy and decency, as is the case in mainstream newspapers. The result is a steady torrent of the most excruciating tosh and mindless claptrap, accentuated by unbridled racism, bigotry, foul language, religious intolerance, and verbal violence. When I first read the comments I was astonished that there could be so many brainless, petty, mean and unpleasant peasants on the planet. It depressed me.  

The same applies to Facebook, Twitter and the multitude of Blog sites. I instinctively share the (some say cynical) view that these social media are largely trivial and an expression of the peculiar new-age need to keep up with the daily update trend, or else lose relevance. It does seem like a bit of an addiction to constant self-affirmation and I side with the assertion (not mine) that tweets are nothing more than “shouts into the darkness, hoping someone is listening”.

Viral marketing is another by-product of the social media revolution and it has created some very clever and entertaining ads. But it is also responsible for creating a few astonishing SA celebrities such as Vernon Koekemoer and now Die Antwoord. I find it incomprehensible that Die Antwoord – exponents of so-called rof-rap – is by far the most successful SA musical (?) experience internationally with more than seven million ‘hits’ on their site, the last time I looked.  Shockingly quaint, but alas, trailer-trash culture rules.

The internet is truly a remarkable communication facility and an invaluable source of information. Our lives have been considerably enriched by the accessibility to so much information that is informative, useful, enlightening and uplifting. I cannot imagine a world without it. I do lament the intrusiveness of bad taste and the banal, but the beauty of the medium is that one can avoid the dull drivel. I have the choice not to be exposed to it. The trick is to duck the dumb-dumbs, to steer through the claptrap and not to become a victim of the neurotic obsession to self-affirm. So I filter out the flotsam and jetsam, and all it requires is some self-regulation. 

Zander Heeger is a free-lance writer. He is not blind to the irony in this Catch 22 situation. By pointing a critical finger at social media chirpers, there are three fingers pointing back at him as a chirper on the Scenic South public forum. Bust bru – damned if you do, and damned if you don’t!