In 2009, when the digital communications concepts presented in this video by Internet technology writer Clay Shirky were fairly fresh, they would have been somewhat surprising to many. However, people of the 21st century seem to settle in quickly with new technology and the new ways of life that result. (Consider the ideas of privacy and public humility which held sway for decades but which now seem quaint.)
There’s nothing that Shirky says in his TED talk that's been refuted. The intervening seven years have borne him out: mass communication is no longer one-way, it is a group cacophony that often has no central authority; uncomfortable messages cannot be squelched by repressive governments; radical ideas cannot be silenced; messages can be distributed to millions (even billions) by a single individual, the means of production are in nearly everyone’s hands. Shirky summarizes this by saying that now “media is global, social, ubiquitous, and cheap.”
A prime example of the disruption caused by this notion is the entry of the phrase “post-fact world” into Western thought and writing. Prior to Internet-enabled communication, mass communication could only be carried out by those with access to expensive hardware: printing presses, radio towers, television studios, and so forth. When the means of distribution were in the hands of the few, it was easy to feel that prominent sources were authoritative, that the information they distributed was “true” because so many people were paying attention simultaneously. Outright lies would be noticed by many. Publishers and broadcasters would be held accountable. With the hyper-fragmentation of information sources created by the Web, an information consumer has thousands--perhaps millions--of sources to consult, each claiming authority. Just as a book needs an editor, information often needs someone to act as a “verifier.” Lacking this, authority vanishes. Anyone with Shirky’s “ubiquitous and cheap” hardware can make whatever claims they wish and package it up with enough visual gloss to confer an air of legitimacy. Such a message can have a global reach.
While we are now awash in digital communities which foster constructive dialogue between widely varying groups, so too are we at pains to distinguish truth from propaganda and outright fantasy. This is the tense dual nature of the Internet and modern social media.