A few years ago, a friend and I did a podcast about the impact of social media. We wanted to know why social media is so good at uncovering the truths that are so uncomfortable to hear (for most of us) and forcing them into our mainstream conversation.
I won’t go into too much academic detail, but the experts told us that social media gravitates toward these conversations because that’s where the power of its users lies. Social media is valued most when it disrupts the traditional gatekeepers of information (i.e. traditional media).
Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, this is what’s made a unique and challenging perspective the most valuable online currency a person can have. And why we are drawn to users if they are doing things like:
Giving a voice to the voiceless.
Challenging our most common misconceptions.
Or speaking out about the things that so many of us have experienced, and yet, rarely see discussed openly or honestly.
Because the majority of our media is now corporately owned (and I’m talking, like, international conglomerate corporate, not entertainment industry corporate) we’ve been forced to accept that when money is involved, sometimes there are topics that we, the public, simply do not get to hear about.
The list is endless. And when you sit back and look at it, you start to feel shocked we haven’t been having these conversations all along. While also feeling relieved that we are finally starting to have them.
I know that for me personally, I have learned by leaps-and-bounds regarding so many issues I thought I knew something about. Simply by listening to people on Twitter.
For all the trash-talking that goes on inside its 140-character walls, I truly believe the platform has done more to raise our awareness and enhance our collective consciousness than anything else in my lifetime.
The social media age has created a new normal and you can already see its impact. One-by-one, the gatekeepers have slowly started to fall.
I mention this as a way to acknowledge the part I believe Twitter (and other social media platforms) has played in exposing Harvey Weinstein. While the NYTimes may have officially broken the news, and The New Yorker got the story, it’s only because these women lived in a world where they finally felt comfortable enough to give it to them. A world that exists thanks in part to the women of Twitter who have been raging against this machine for years.
As their tireless advocacy on social media slowly evolved the conversation about sexual assault, the right people finally felt brave enough to talk about it.
And that’s dope.
So dope, I’m starting to look at spheres like Twitter and see more than just a tool for social advocacy. I’m starting to see the future of power.
Right now at this very moment, it seems we possess all the technology we need to shake up the traditional structures that are so good at letting the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world exist. It seems we have all the tools we need to let the people make collective decisions about what is right and wrong. And that through thoughtful debate and consensus building, we can eliminate the need for a group of people at the top telling us what will and won’t happen.
If you ask me, it’s about damn time.
Because here’s the reality we don’t want to acknowledge: those traditional power structures – the ones where there is one person at the top with a profound amount of influence – those structures inherently reduce accountability for that person. Structures like your average corporation are specifically designed to create a culture of consent, not dissent.
Which is all good when you have a benevolent, kind, smart leader.
But what happens when you don’t?
In a big company where the leader sucks and he or she is always acting in their own self-interest (which is a lot of them), you’re left with a culture where the most successful employees are the ones who do the most for that shitty person.
(See: Harvey Weinstein. And how his assistants and the executives around him, not only looked the other way, but often facilitated his assaults in some way.)
Hopefully, Harvey Weinstein is an extreme case, but the reality is having a garbage person at the top happens way more than we are willing to admit. And in the end, that reality hurts us all. Sometimes in ways that can’t be fixed.
Maybe it’s time we shift the balance.
Maybe it’s time we let the people make the big picture decisions and then let our leaders (whether they’re politicians, CEO’s, managers, etc.) merely facilitate them. Maybe it’s time to turn our leaders into ordinary administrators instead of the incredible visionaries they so often claim to be (and are not). Maybe it’s time we did something about a style of power that so obviously corrupts the people who possess it. (And at least acknowledge the fact that, by definition, being called a “leader” suggests a distance between the person at the top and the people they should be serving.)
Maybe if we started checking this power, we’d be a whole lot better at keeping its abuses at bay.
I’m not saying that consensus building wouldn’t have its own problems. No system is perfect. But in the end, consensus is just about the best idea winning out (or at least one we can mostly agree on). And I truly believe there is a healthy, evolutionary quality to that discourse. And an invigorating spirit that comes from everyone feeling like they’ve been heard.
We see it everyday online.
Now, in the wake of another, powerful “visionary” doing horrible things to the weaker people “beneath” him – maybe it’s time we move what’s happening online into our everyday, offline lives. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to live in the world that Twitter is trying to create.
And for worse…
I haven’t been around that long, but as I get older, I continue to lose faith in the idea of “great men” or generational leaders. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some, but just to say that most people in positions of power are fucking dumb. Like, there are so many rich, powerful people who are really stupid. And I don’t think that gets talked about enough.
Not only that, but I think too often, putting our faith in one individual robs us of some kind of faith in ourselves. I think it’s a way to simplify our lives and relieve the pressures we face when we’re forced to admit that we are responsible for ourselves and everyone around us.
I think it’s fair to say that maybe terrible people in positions of power are able to get away with the horrible things they do because too many of us look to them to make-or-break our own lives.
The movie executives who knew, but said nothing because they wanted to keep their high-paying job.
The actors who were warned, but didn’t speak up because they wanted their next part.
The directors who heard every sick rumor, but kept quiet because they wanted to fund their new pet-project.
What if they had turned to each other and said we have the power to rid ourselves of this monster?
What if they lived in a world where they truly believed they could?
One thing would have been different for sure: as the curtain on this tragedy finally drew, the stars wouldn’t have looked so dim.