Defence bunkers & social media

POSTED: June 16, 2020

Monocle not only publish a magazine, and a growing number of podcasts, gathered together as a 24/7 radio station. They also deliver a free daily newsletter. What follows comes from The Monocle Weekend Edition, which you can subscribe to here.

What follows comes from the lead article of the Weekend Edition that arrived in my mailbox on Sunday, June 14th.

Tyler Brulée writes:

“It’s impossible to have a reasonable discussion around any topic these days.” These were the words from a CEO of a major Swiss-based multinational a few days ago. “PR teams are so terrified of social media that you become frozen if you have to make a statement because terminology changes by the moment and there is a faction out there to pounce on your every word. In the end, you’d rather not say anything.” As we discussed this, we moved on to the danger that comes when everyone expects solutions and comments within hours – particularly when they’re hounded by those who are too quick on their keyboards. “It’s destructive when a communications team feels it needs to respond within minutes and ends up unravelling the reputation of a business that’s taken half a century to build,” he said. Nuanced conversations rarely happen in a short blast of hastily fired characters. Meaningful change requires meaningful dialogue, compromise and kindness – not quick fixes or hasty condemnation.

Monocle has long argued that the digital tools at our disposal demand a serious rethink about how we not only use them but also how we conduct ourselves in society. Is it appropriate to publicly shame people because they’ve used terminology some have deemed out of fashion? That depends on the degree of the infraction and intent but surely more could be achieved (and more constructively) with a quiet, private word? Likewise, why do some corners of society shut down discussion and won’t hear explanations? Could it be because they don’t really want a dialogue? Because it takes too much effort, demands critical thinking and maybe even forgiveness?

Amid all of this, one thing is for sure – discussion shouldn’t go away, nor should it be driven underground and into the shadows. Which brings us back to those bunkers. With so many decommissioned civil defence bunkers across Switzerland reconfigured to host massive servers that help support the world’s social media players, perhaps it’s time for a rethink.

Many Swiss-based organisations are dedicated to resolving international conflicts and seeking peaceful outcomes. A good start might be the foundation of a digital disarmament policy and shutting down those servers. Maybe those sound-proof, signal-proof rooms could be transformed into fora where people can express their points of view, face to face, not shielded by a device – all in the comfort of knowing that what they say won’t be taken out of context, disseminated or distorted.