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NEWS15 March 2017

Caitlin Moran: ‘the internet is like a baby: incredibly angry about things that don’t matter’

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UK - Speaking at Impact 2017, Caitlin Moran suggested hope lay in today’s social media institutions metaphorically “burning to the ground” before being rebuilt.

Moran was being interviewed by Martin Lee, co-founder and strategist of Acacia Avenue, concluding the first day of the annual MRS conference, Impact 2017. There was often little need for prompting from Lee, with Moran diving into an array of topics at great depth and speed.

Moran, who now works in a shed (her “soundest financial purchase”) at the bottom of her garden, explained how these days she no longer goes out that often, staying in like a classical philosopher and thinking. It begged the question: how can she write social commentary when based in a shed?

“Luckily it’s become even easier now,” she said. “The biggest thing that’s happened is that we’ve all migrated to the internet.” She said that online had helped the world develop a “global consciousness”. 

When she joined Twitter in 2008 (an era before Brexit, before Trump and the rise of right-wing populism), “all conversations with friends were about how boring politics was, about its convergence to the middle ground, apathy and that no one wanted to watch Newsnight.

“Obviously that’s completely changed now.”

The internet today, and social media in particular, is ripe with vitriol, and many of its angry, knee-jerk, emotive forms of expression have pervaded the higher echelons of political institutions.

“You see politicians in the Houses of Parliament using the words and phrases of trolls,” she said. “This is online language affecting the highest levels of power in the world.

“The trouble is that the base of the internet, the algorithm that runs it, wants more exciting things. Not truth, not facts, but the most exciting things. The problem with that is that the things that people most talk about is the things they disagree with. There is money in us arguing.”

She highlighted how the internet has powered people’s differences (over issues like racism, sexism and immigration) when humanity should instead be brought together by the “million things that unite us”. 

Moran suggested that the world’s internet-powered global consciousness was akin to the consciousness of a baby, prone to getting “incredibly angry about things that don’t matter” and “easily distracted by pictures of animals”.

She also likened the internet at its current stage to the frontiers of the US, ruled by aggressive white men.

“Crime is not seen as real on the internet. Threats are not viewed as real. And as a consequence everything we’ve built this on is toxic. The fact that there are no laws tells us at some point that social social media, like San Francisco, will burn to the ground. It’s not sustainable as it is, and it will be rebuilt.”

Moran pointed out that the internet was built by men, which led her to talk about her approach to feminism, which Lee described as “passionate and compassionate”.

“The whole idea with equality is that we’d be equal,” she said. “As a concept, the only way that feminism can work is that everyone believes in equality.”

She added that even if all women across the globe were feminists, that would still leave 52% of the global population (men) who were not. 

“Feminism is not just for the women. Feminism makes it better for everyone.”

Among the many other topics Moran shared her thoughts on, was the notion that too much content, be it music, film, journalism, is free online, which has led to a devaluing of media and art. She is therefore, unsurprisingly, in favour of paywalls, not merely to sustain revenues for publishers and artists, or to make people appreciate and relish content by consuming it in a considered manner, but to stem the tide of trolling commentators (who run riot on free-to-read sites such as TheGuardian.com

“With the Katie Hopkins libel case [which Hopkins and the Mailonline recently lost] we are starting to see real life intrude on cyberspace.” Which, she said, means that the likes of Twitter is being forced to behave more like publishers than platforms, to behave more responsibly.

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