This morning I helped my eldest son find a couple of music videos on YouTube. Considering him safely amused for a moment, I turned my attention to my younger son who needed sandals on and a hat found and a patio door opened. Back to my older son, I go, as he's become suspiciously quiet. I find him ensconced in the computer chair watching an episode of South Park. "What!?" he complains as I sputter and reach for that X in the upper right corner, "it's a cartoon; it's appropriate!"
He's at that terrifying age where he wants to know more, see more, hear more, read more and able to find what he's looking for, but not able to judge the information he's receiving or separate out the valuable or appropriate information from the very worthless garbage.
I identify with him in many ways. Like when I try to follow political news and commentary using social media. It's becoming almost impossible to find the information while wading through the garbage of Newfoundland politics' bullying and bantering.
And the national scene is no better, really, though there's more people, like me, taking it seriously and engaging in real discussion rather than name calling and mud throwing.
Back in high school, I had the great fortune of having an astute language arts teacher and attending his class during a federal election year. He assigned us the task of following the federal election coverage and writing responses to the issues and events covered. I still have the binder of clippings and responses I wrote tucked away in my basement. That assignment sparked a lifelong interest in addition to teaching me rhetoric and response. I followed the election coverage on the TV news each night, turned up the radio when discussions on the issues were taking place, and clipped many an article, photo, letter to the editor, column and editorial cartoon from the Evening Telegram.
Today, though, if students were given the assignment to "follow" political discourse or election coverage for school, they would most like become "followers" of the political parties and their representatives on Twitter. Perhaps they'd friend or subscribe to some communications people, analysts, or politicians on Facebook. They'd watch YouTube video responses made in a Rant like Rick style instead of clipping editorial cartoons.
This is the new media and it's what our young people are using to get both information and entertainment.
Unlike TV newscasts, newspaper reports, and even radio talkshows, social media, in general, has no editor. There is no oversight commission tracking what's being said and how. So it's very easy for someone to be looking for appropriate, informative tweets or facebook statuses and be struck, instead, with worthless garbage.
And if anyone has been following the #nlpoli hashtag on Twitter these days, as I can imagine astute and modern teachers might've encouraged their students to do, they'd find mostly worthless garbage.
For months, debate in the House has been carried online through Twitter, Facebook and the blogs of those watching. During that time we've had to put up with watching those like Paul Lane, PC MHA for Mount Pearl South, jump on anyone expressing concern or opening debate about provincial politics. There's never a fray he's not willing to jump into with his own aggressive tweets. Then we have the private analysts like Sue Kelland Dyer (@HydroQueen on Twitter), who push their agenda too far using innuendo and rant-like complaints rather than real facts and proper debate.
But once the house closed, I suppose everyone got bored and decided that if they had nothing informative to say they'd amass a whole lot of worthless garbage and hope to keep their followers entertained. There was Shannon Reardon, now former communications director for the Liberal party, attacking Steve Kent with personal innuendo regarding his volunteer work with Boy Scouts Canada.
She was immediately called out by David Cochrane of the CBC for her comments, which then resulted in everyone in the #nlpoli twitterverse joining in the discussion. It finally ended with the pronouncement that her comments did not reflect the Liberal party of NL because she no longer worked for them. But that, of course, was not the end really. Kent then had to retweet the whole sad affair and get off a few zingers about how appropriate it was that Reardon was fired (though the nature of the end of her contract with the Liberals does not seem to be a matter of public record).
This is what a teenager today trying to follow political discourse would read. And I thought the editorial cartoons could get a bit nasty when I was young. The nature of political discussion online in this province has gone from bad to wretched. Yes, we still have our Ed Holletts blogging sensibly, but when one considers that most young people today find the majority of their information and do the majority of their research online, and when one realises that teenagers often view tweets as as reliable a source of information as Wikipedia — which they believe supreme — it's not hard to see that the likelihood of them developing strong political literacy is pretty low.
Like I told my seven-year-old this morning, "just because it looks suitable doesn't mean it is; you need to judge how appropriate the content is."
Meanwhile, I'd let him watch South Park way before I would let him see how badly behaved the people in this province who should be his role models are.