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“Google: a terrorist’s best friend” read the Daily Mail’s frontpage headline after the Westminster attack. The Mail, going out of their way to verify that Google truly is a friend of “the Terrorists”, investigated thoroughly: “it took the Mail two minutes to find a manual on how to use a car in a mass murder.” … As the Guardian, among many others, pointed out — two minutes? That’s a long time to conclude a car driven into a crowd will wreak havoc. By the Mail’s logic, Google (or, more accurately, the Internet generally) is everyone’s best friend, constantly in our pocket, beckoning us to the next piece of information, whether that’s who our next date will be with, or how to turn fertiliser into explosive. Sadly, Google as an omnipresent “friend” is an interesting, altogether too intelligent, thought for the Mail‘s front page. Instead, a single line of thought, namely of fear, prevails.
It is of course all too easy to say “don’t be scared, pay more attention to shoelaces, vending machines, etc, etc, etc, they’re more likely to kill you.” And yet after the Westminster attack, I’m thinking for the first time: “lots of people want to blow up as many as possible on streets I walk down on a day to day basis” — not something I thought often while living in Wellington. Of course in a city of multiple millions I should listen to my optimistic self; the thought doesn’t have to be more than a passing one — statistically speaking, anyway.
Sadly, tabloid news media like the Daily Mail will do their best to exploit and extend the latent fear terrorist attacks inspire. In naming this column “From Within the Fallout Zone”, such fear mongering from news media, particularly “alternative media outlets,” is the type of fallout I had in mind. (Not to mention an egomaniac has the codes to the US nuclear arsenal in his wallet). The point hardly needs to be reiterated: whatever forces want to bring down democratic governments, whether they be Steve Bannon or IS, their work is done for them in headlines like the Daily Mail’s. Turning the everyday into the feared. You should be scared when you use Google because terrorists do too. You should be scared using public transport because terrorists do too.
Anyway. Despite all the hype of these so called apocalyptic days, they are nothing more than the conclusion of a failed neo-liberal experiment. There are already signs of something new taking its place, in both the strengthening of a once spineless liberal media, and the increased civic engagement of a generation who were supposedly the cause of it all. What with their hashtags, and their end-to-end encryption. Hopefully the errors of the Blair/Bush days have been heeded by at least one pillar of modern democracy.
Along with the Guardian article calling out the idiocy of the Mail’s headline, the news media seem to be becoming more genuine and careful in their own critique of fake news, or news for entertainment. Al Jazeera have been quick to put out a video segment in the vein of “ask a Muslim why terrorists are not Muslim.” And the New Yorker is getting bolder in its coverage of Russian involvement in the US elections. It is a safe bet to say the Trump administration will only make the liberal media outlets richer. I’m not too bothered by that as long as we don’t continue headlong in making Vonnegut’s political fascinations a reality.