Interview: Professor Mike McGuirk on How Brandwatch For Students is Used in His Classroom
By Olivia SwainSep 6
Last night, the final episode of Black Mirror Season 2 explored the possibility of political revolution at the hands of a volatile cocktail of internet virality, uninformed satire and social disillusionment.
“Waldo” is a cult adult cartoon character (not to be confused with Waldo of Where’s Waldo? fame), renowned for crassly confronting and embarrassing celebrities and MPs on his chat show. During one broadcast, the actor behind Waldo, shaken by developments in his personal life, inadvertently crosses the line between entertainment and politics with an outburst about the worthless, shameful falseness of politicians and the masses’ waning belief in their governments.
Whoops, claps and cheers are followed by widespread furore as the clip spreads unstoppably online, stirring up a zealous campaign to support Waldo as a candidate in the imminent local elections.
As the character who plays the crude blue bear privately and ashamedly admits to his colleague, there is no knowledge, insight or expertise behind Waldo’s “moment”. Nothing constructive, advisory or helpful. The outburst, triggered by personal emotion, is entirely disruptive, juvenile and plainly cynical, devoid of any attempt to propose alternatives to what is declared to be so hated by the public.
Despite this, the incident evokes emotion and excitement from the public in a way that no serious politician could ever hope to do in the status quo. Relishing in the anger and cynicism, people are fooled by a kind of pseudo-intellectual damning of the establishment and dangerously confuse the moment with something of political worth. It’s a series of petulant slurs, misinterpreted as the beginning of a revolution.
A host of interesting issues are raised by the finale of the second iteration of Charlie Brooker’s creation. Whatever one’s instincts towards MPs and civil servants and their motivations are, the effort they must go through to gather the education and experience seemingly requisite to run countries and pose legislation is undeniable.
In a manner ominously reflective of society’s ever-decreasing attention span and reality TV-induced habit of absent-mindedly affording unqualified individuals a pedestal, Waldo achieves more social change in 60 seconds of drama than any single politician does in a lifetime struggle for power.
Excited by the sudden possibility of political power through Waldo, his “owner” jumps at the opportunity for him to run as a candidate, countering doubts by naively arguing “We don’t need politicians, we have iPhones… If a decision needs to be made, we just put it online.” He is, unintentionally, describing the impact of the internet and social media on free speech.
We’ve all experienced how easy it is to base our beliefs on what we instantly find on the internet rather than informed research. Have you ever followed advice from Yahoo Answers? Hopefully not, but the inherent danger of free speech is heightened by online platforms; those who may have once ranted in isolation on soapboxes now have blogs, forums and profiles that may allow them to earn unwarranted kudos and wider audiences.
Brooker’s primary implication seems to be that something like the Waldo scenario becomes a real possibility if, firstly, the internet is truly so powerful and, secondly, the public is genuinely that easily misled. Assuming we aren’t there already, it begs an intriguing and daunting question: is this a reality to which we could be headed? If so, who is to blame; the public or the government?