When KONY 2012 hit the tubes of the Internet the world was alight with passion, emotion and drive. The reality of becoming a Batman-like justice bearer was closer than ever for millions around the world. The Invisible Children had presented an argument, and associated data and facts, that presented a situation that was fraught with inhumane living conditions, child soldiers and an ill-equipped Ugandan government struggling to deal with a terror like no other. The time to act was now! Armed with our highly polished argument we were asked to channel our Western guilt into action. Just empty out our wallets and petition the shit out of our leaders and collectively we will “capture” Mr. Joseph Kony, the world’s most notorious villain. The message was clear and the purpose was just. Then the Internet took hold.
Conversations about the “truth” of KONY 2012 began to trickle in and the facts and arguments presented by the Invisible Children began to be challenged. An obscure blog post from 2009 surfaced and contrary evidence began to mount. The discourse shifted from an apolitical one surrounding action and justice to an entirely dialectical one, with everyone appropriating THEIR perspectives on the validity of KONY 2012. Instantly, the Internet had replicated the crappy cable news “debates” around KONY but rather than having experts on camera we now had thousands of armchair pundits, myself included, battling for the “truth” through argumentation. But as it always happens lost in the discourse was both the truth and the people involved in the truth.
The reality is that this is not unique to KONY 2012. In fact, as I write this we have a new dialectical process surrounding a censored (or not censored) TED Talk. On almost an hourly basis the conversation grows, new “facts” emerge and the result is an already exhausted populace who barely cares chooses to close their browsers in search of reprieve. You wonder why the Kardashian’s are millionaires?!?
Big data is a challenge in many verticals but arguably none more essential to our survival than the resolution of the dialectical approach to events / issues / topics. Traditionalists will call for a return to true journalism with massive investments in fact checking and proper sourcing. But this loses the ability to give voice to the voiceless through citizen media. Progressives will look to the “unbiased” nature of technology, rank-ordering the discourse in search of truth. The trouble here is that perspectives get lost through this ordering and as big search engines like Google and BING start to incorporate social graphs into their results we end up with an even more narrow view with harsher argumentation and fewer resolutions.
The truth is that we need a solution that resides in the middle. Something that takes the balance and brilliance of old network TV news and adds the participatory media of citizens closest to the events / issues / topics. We never really knew our place in the universe until we saw that photo of our watery earth floating in space. It is this perspective we need on the events, issues and topics that dominate our headlines because without it we are on a path towards gridlock with an Internet that looks for truth entirely through opinion.