A long standing theme from the media has been how terrible the Internet is. With COVID-19, it seems that the media’s reaction is changing.
The Internet is a horrible place. That’s where all the scams live. Fraud runs rampant. Then, there is the worst thing of all: fake news and the encouragement of doing bad or illegal things. These are among the general messages Canadian media outlets have been spreading for years. Often, news reports end with the tagline “don’t believe everything you see on the Internet.”
This is not to say there aren’t scams, fraud, or misleading information online, but if you were to believe everything you see on TV, you’d think that this is all that exists online. But hey, you got it from a TV anchor at a fancy desk in a beautifully green screened set with a perfect haircut and amazing outfit. Thank goodness that person is around to save you from the tyranny of this evil thing called the Internet, right? After all, they tell you things like how video games will turn you into psycho killers, so everything they say must be true, right?
Of course, criticism of the Internet is nothing new and not exclusive to Canadian news programs on TV. When Music Canada was known as the Canadian Recording Industry Association, one of their lobbyists asked Canadian NDP MP Charlie Angus if he knew what the Internet was. When he played coy and said “no”, he was told that it was a vehicle for stolen merchandise and how this theft ring needs to stop. In 2009, a Sony executive in 2009 once told reporters how nothing good has ever come out of the Internet.
Of course, lost in all of this anti-internet rhetoric is all the good that has actually come from the Internet. Things like how family members are able to communicate with each other in spite of long distances. What about marriages that happen thanks to our inter-connected world? Remember how the band OK Go got their big break when their famous treadmill music video became popular? What about Notch and how he became rich because of his video game Minecraft? How about all the good YouTube celebrities do like MrBeast? This is ultimately a side of the Internet the Canadian media don’t like talking about because it shows some of the good that comes from it.
Even some advertisers jumped in on this Internet hate train. Years ago, Canadian organization, the Concerned Children’s Advertisers created a PSA (Public Service Announcement) known as the House Hippo advertisement. The ad warned viewers not to believe everything you see on TV. This rare moment of self-awareness was recently replaced by House Hippo 2.0 which urged viewers to stop fake news and misinformation on the Internet. The campaign was boosted by various outlets only to be met with mixed reception.
Of course, there might be financial motivation behind this rage against the Internet. After all, a lot of advertising dollars have slipped from TV advertising to the Internet. That transition to the Internet has seen budgets slashed in the media in all forms. In fact, the budget cuts and news organization closures was the spark that started the website known as Newspaper Death Watch. So, if you are looking for a reason why traditional media outlets have been trying to paint the Internet in the worst possible light, financial motivation is an excellent place to start.
This year, however, things have changed. With the spread of COVID-19, large portions of the worlds population have been in lockdown. Save for essential services, many people are stuck with remaining in their homes. This, of course, represents a challenge to daily living. How does one get basic necessities? What do people do with their time? How do we maintain psychological help? What if your hair grows too long and you are unable to see a hairdresser? What about observing religious traditions? Suddenly, this newfangled thing called the Internet doesn’t seem to be such a evil and terrible plague on society after all.
These days, it seems that large broadcasters are having a bit of a change in tune when it comes to the Internet. Now, we are seeing stories about how the Internet connects people virtually. There are stories about how people are now buying groceries on the Internet (something even some Internet supporters including myself looked at sideways when it first started cropping up). People are using the Internet to allow children to keep in touch with each other. When Easter Sunday happened, there were no quibbles with covering how people use the Internet to conduct virtual services. Some reporters are communicating with their hairdressers for tips on doing basic haircuts to help bridge the gap between appointments. Suddenly, even traditional media outlets are acknowledging that maybe this whole Internet thing isn’t such a bad thing after all.
Of course, the benefits of the Internet have existed long before COVID-19 became a household name. Many people constantly ordered items through Amazon. People are able to buy video games through services like Steam or the Playstation Network. Families were able to communicate with loved ones overseas such as loved ones who are serving in the military. People have already been able to produce uplifting messages and post them on Facebook or YouTube. People already had the ability to order food (be it groceries or restaurant meals) online. These types of services have existed for years. The only thing COVID-19 has changed is the emphasis towards and capacity of online services. So, we aren’t exactly in uncharted territory when it comes to the existence of these services.
What is noteworthy, however, is how much the attitude has changed thanks to the pandemic in the first place. It took a global pandemic to get various TV broadcasters to temper their hatred towards the Internet. Maybe the Internet isn’t something to be fought so much as it is something to be utilized. Generally speaking, it is first and foremost a tool after all. While there are still stories being run about how some random idiot is trying to say how COVID-19 is a myth from time to time, the overall attitude has finally improved. For people like us, we can be grateful of some small reprieve on this front.
Of course, sooner or later, COVID-19 will wane. Things will re-open. Whether that happens this year, the next, or sometime after, no one can really say for sure. Sooner or later, though, we’ll be going back to business as usual. So the question is, when that time comes, will TV broadcasters and other traditional outlets go back to attacking the Internet? Unfortunately, that is very likely. They will conveniently forget how much the Internet helped to get people through this pandemic. They will go back to trying to sell to people the idea that the Internet is this monolithic thing of evil that everyone should avoid and how TV broadcasters are there to responsibly save people from this evil thing.
Still, we can all be thankful that, for a brief period of time at least, traditional news outlets actually got along with the Internet. We can all be grateful for however long this lasts.