MUST READ: Un-Friending The People


BEN MORGAN IS RIGHT: “This is the first time in history that people with so little competence can so powerfully enter the civic discourse.” The consequences of this undeniable fact, for ourselves as citizens, and for our entire democratic political culture, are huge. When noise equals money, and ignorance has been given such a mighty amplifier, then democracy, as a viable system of government, must come under enormous pressure.

The dangers of giving the angry and ignorant their own media outlet was demonstrated most powerfully in the early 1790s, just as the French Revolution was entering the phase known to history as “The Reign of Terror”.

The radical political philosopher, physician and noted scientist, Jean-Paul Marat, recognising the rising power of the poorest people of Paris, founded a newspaper dedicated to at once arousing and expressing their most extreme political passions. In a sinister anticipation of the very worst aspects of today’s social media, Marat’s Friend of The People turned rumour into fact and gave voice to the poverty-stricken masses’ most bloodthirsty impulses. To be denounced on the pages of Marat’s “fake news” paper very quickly became the equivalent of a death sentence. That Marat, himself, was afflicted with an excruciating skin disease did nothing to calm his homicidal fury towards any person or group which he judged to be an enemy of the people.

It was at Marat’s instigation that the revolutionary militia – known as the National Guard – carried out the infamous “September Massacres” of 1792. Over the course of a week, National Guardsmen, their numbers augmented by the Paris poor, broke into the capital’s prisons and butchered more than a thousand prisoners. Marat had told his readers that the jails of Paris were full of aristocrats ready to assist the counter-revolutionary forces gathering on France’s borders. To save the revolution, he declared, they must all be pre-emptively executed. Some of the victims were, indeed, political prisoners awaiting trial. Most, however, were common criminals. Even by the grisly standards of eighteenth century Europe, the grotesque horror of the September Massacres was profoundly shocking.

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Marat’s next victims were the “Girondins”, a faction of the National Assembly whom he suspected of excessive moderation. The Friend of the People’s relentless campaigning convinced Marat’s readers that the Girondins were plotting against the Revolution. In short order, his allies in the National Assembly, the radical Jacobin faction, had the Girondins arrested, tried before the Revolutionary Tribunal, declared guilty, and guillotined.

Marat’s bloody reign was brought to an abrupt end by a young Girondin sympathiser called Charlotte Corday, who famously stabbed him to death in his medicinal bath, after gaining access to the “people’s friend” by passing herself off as an anti-Girondin informant. Secretly relieved to be rid of their dangerous journalistic demagogue, the Jacobins transformed Marat into the people’s first great martyr. The painting entitled The Death of Marat, executed by the era’s most accomplished artist, Jacques-Louis David, is an acknowledged masterpiece of revolutionary propaganda.

This cautionary historical tale records only the consequences of a radical intellectual’s decision to align himself wholeheartedly with the least educated and most desperate elements of a society gripped by revolutionary change. The important difference between Marat’s Friend of the People and Facebook is that the former still required the participation of a guiding editorial hand, a printers’ workshop, and a host of newspaper sellers, to work its malign political magic. Contemporary social media has done away with all these intermediaries. Today, the people need no friend, they can speak for themselves.

These individual voices, algorithmically assembled into vast aggregations of the like-minded, now possess the power to dictate the editorial policies of the world’s newspapers and broadcasting networks. Dependent on the electronic devices of these volatile and easily bored consumers for their economic survival, the legacy media has all but given up on the notion that a newspaper, magazine, radio station or television network should lead and inform public opinion. This clear political goal, which Marat, himself, would have endorsed – albeit in relation to the Parisians’ most extreme opinions – has been supplemented by the media’s existential need to fashion itself into a politically agnostic parasite. The new media organism’s only hope of sustaining itself is to feast, with cynical efficiency, on the madness and mania of the masses, and then excrete it back to them.

With the ignorance and prejudices of the masses setting the social and political tone, the desperation and disdain of the well-educated and culturally sophisticated managers and professionals who actually keep a modern, technology-driven society functioning, is easily imagined.

Gone are the days when these folk were able to filter out the masses’ mania and madness from the news media; when the political parties they largely controlled could aggregate a coherent policy agenda with which to guide an otherwise inchoate electorate. Confronted with such monumental stupidity in every sphere: politics, medicine, science; is it any wonder that the technocrats in charge have learned how to transform the self-same social media which has undermined the guided democracy of the past into an undisclosed vector for its destruction in the present?

The covert manipulation of elections by means of social media has now reached such a level of sophistication that those lacking the skills to participate are rendered utterly irrelevant to the electoral process – except as window-dressing. The impact of these techniques is already evident in the deep organic political crisis currently gripping the United Kingdom. Brexit, that great victory of the ignorant and the angry, has set the UK up for a revolution of its own. A similar fate looks set to overwhelm the United States in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential elections.

Will these revolts throw up their own versions of Jean-Paul Marat? Of course. Only this time the people will not see him. And he will not be their friend.


  1. Sorry Chris, it’s not the media’s role to lead opinion. They are there only to report the facts and let their readers/viewers make up their own minds. Such snobbery I did not expect from you towards the masses. You sound like you want a media that tells us what to think and when to think. Presumably if the situation changes then we’ll all be re-educated in the new thoughts. It reads to me that you’re missing control over what media the masses consume. Your despair is that such control is no longer possible.

    • Michael, newspapers have always had opinion pieces. In recent history they’ve been in editorials, and in columnists’ opinion pieces.

      I rather suspect -and hope – that the sort of persons who may be susceptible to manipulation by the media, are the sort who would not be reading editorials or opinion pieces anyway – but in NZ columnists by and large seem to be trivialising (Hosking) or just lamenting (Du Fresne.)

      Right now I could probably tell you who the Fairfax ladies want to replace their beloved Key leading the Nats, and it is they who could be trying to tell us what to think, but they’re just not very good at it.

      Invited opinion pieces from politicians or big wigs have always featured regularly in print media, and are interesting for what they tell us about the writer, or in providing idiosyncratic news of no interest to the mainstream hacks, but of huge value in interpreting or analysing specialist information which require a knowledge which many of us don’t have.

      If you – but I don’t know if you are – are saying that it is not the media’s role to create the news, rather than to report and comment on it, then I would most certainly agree with you, but I think Chris is right in his description, or analysis, of how the news media now sustains itself – it’s an interesting read.

    • ” Sorry Chris, it’s not the media’s role to lead opinion. They are there only to report the facts and let their readers/viewers make up their own minds.”
      Wouldn’t it be great if this was what the media stuck to. But just like Marat they routinely abuse this role. Not to the immediate evil that he instigated but to manipulate public opinion.
      How many people in NZ believe that Assad gasses his own people?
      That Russia as in Putin set up a network to influence voters in the US to elect Trump?
      We are constantly fed a stream of half truths and lies by a MSM that does not do it’s own homework. And Chris is right to say that the social media platforms provide so much information that it undermines the economic base for a truly investigative news media to survive.
      I don’t have a Facebook or twitter etc.acc myself, but I don’t have such a negative view of everyone having a forum to say what they think.
      The problem that Marat exploited was that he had a monopoly of the means to communicate his ideas and his lies. Modern social media is the absolute opposite. Everyone shares the same means.
      and I think this is healthy. People who express an offensive view quickly get told where they’r wrong, as well as sometimes supported by the like minded .
      When truth tellers like Julian Assange are treated as he is being treated for speaking out about stuff we all want to know but the powers that be don’t want us to know, social media becomes our only source of facts.
      D J S

      • David Stone: “We are constantly fed a stream of half truths and lies by a MSM that does not do it’s own homework.”

        Exactly. It’s a long-standing problem. To those cases you adduce, we can add the Skripal nonsense. And before that, the UK vote to leave the EU. The results of which blindsided the MSM.

        And: the 2016 US presidential election. During the campaign, I repeatedly contacted RNZ, imploring them to take a more nuanced approach to reportage. To no avail… And the result also blindsided them. The following morning, I texted Morning Report, wishing them good eating of that great big humble pie I was sure they’d have in the studio.

        “I don’t have a Facebook or twitter etc.acc myself.”

        Neither do I: Facebook is just a bit too “out there” for my taste. But I have no problem with either medium. I simply prefer to access information via the internet in general. Blogsites such as this one often provide useful links.

        “When truth tellers like Julian Assange are treated as he is being treated for speaking out about stuff we all want to know but the powers that be don’t want us to know, social media becomes our only source of facts.”

        Got it in one. I completely agree with you.

  2. A good depiction of what will happpen here in NZ if Labour coalirion does not swifty engage with the “affected comunities” that toaday still await their voices to be responded to.

    During the last labour overnment under Helen Clark, our comunity group in Napier cried out for help by writting to Helen Clark and the (three seperate Minister’s of transport) for mitigation from increasing ‘Port bound freight truck emissions of noise, vibration and air pollution’ along the truck route through Napier’s western suburbs and we got three letters from Helen Clark showing a deep sense of comunity concerrn about this issue.

    Helen was very quick to act and wrote back to our comittee stating she was sending Michael Cullen (as Minister of finance) and Transit NZ CEO Robin Dnlop to us to see the problem that has impacted on all the western Napier residential communities.

    These two gentlemen came to our comunity soon after and on that they changed everything for the good at that time.

    Since then within a year Napier City Council and Transit NZ offered some mitigation to help comunities impacted by truck emissions to cope.

    But since that time the issue has now become very much worse as the truck freight has since then trebbled causing a far worse public health danger of truck noise, vibrations, and air pollution problem to our communities.

    In 2017; A ‘Labour coalition’ party’ was restored to Government.

    So we repeated the same exersise writting to Ministers with the new incoming Labour coalition Government in 2017.

    We deliberately wrote to the same Ministers of Transport and then the Prime minister, and so far ’20 months later;

    We have recieved two letters from Phil Twyford; –

    *but no assistance for mitigation was gven.
    *nor any response for our ‘requested meeting between Phil twyford coming to meet with our comunity comittee.

    *Sadly to this day we have had no response from our new Labour Prime Minister at all.

    We often remember how successful it was for us previously after writing to helen Clark for help.

    So Chris you are right here, ‘we all need to feel suported by our government’ otherwise very deep feelings of betrayal will set in and generate resentment towards any Government lacking in active participation and not offering support of any comunity in need.

    Labour has a problem here, inside the new Government that appear not to be “responsive” to community issues today, and this must now be corrected as the peole will punish labour at the polls in the next election if they stay out of reach of the community groupps that are requesting assistance for our communities.

  3. Yes, heaven forbid the great unwashed masses of the underclass rise up and exact bloody vengeance on their overlords and masters who obviously know better.

    Do you write for the NBR too, Chris? Are you Matthew Hooten in drag?

    • I started out thinking the same but that is not what he is saying.
      Ignorance abounds in most of us eg: about topics we know know nothing of, yet everyone now has an opinion they can voice.
      Great piece Mr Trotter. On point.

      • Indeed we do…walking in someone elses shoes is a mere snap shot even if we attempt it but I think my link fair in that it is a modern representation of Chris’ French Revolution parable

        Given Chris’ closing paragraph…..”Will these revolts throw up their own versions of Jean-Paul Marat? Of course. Only this time the people will not see him. And he will not be their friend.”….I think it difficult to claim he was saying otherwise

    • It would be helpful, I believe, Castro, if you were to sit down and talk to survivors of politically-inspired massacres. Perhaps, then, you might gain some understanding of what the courses of action you so enthusiastically promote look like, and sound like, and smell like. If you showed the slightest trace of empathic imagination, then this would not be necessary, but everything you say on this blog convinces me that you have none. That said, of course, even my suggestion is likely to prove fruitless. Haters gonna hate, and killers gonna kill. I suspect you’re beyond help.

      • ” The French Revolution completely changed the social and political structure of France. It put an end to the French monarchy, feudalism, and took political power from the Catholic church. ”
        It also ushered in “modern history” and was despite the loss of life the beginning of democracy. The American revolution which threw off English rule involved revolutionary violence.
        Old Orders do not die willingly they fight to hang on to their privilege.
        Castro is right along with history, it’s a wet wet business! 🙁

      • Well, that told you @ CASTRO.
        @ CT… In the immortal words of my media hero, Kim Hill:
        ” Yeah, but hang on a minute? ”
        Any soldier having served would know the smell, sounds and looks of wars they were dragged into. Sometimes without a choice. WW’rs 1, 2 and numerous other wars started by elitist fat cats who sent kids home in body bags from the likes of Vietnam etc were victims of a psychological head fuckery for profit over empathy surely?
        We see it building today as trump and others make death rattles with their little sabres.
        I wouldn’t be so quick to condemn the hoi polloi to a raving mad, heaving mass of hysteria just yet.
        You’re inimitable and brilliant piece above doesn’t seem to dwell on the very thing you appear most afraid of. That the masses will slaughter each other in an orgastic bloodbath if allowed free entry to all information because no one will know whether the information they get is real or not. Why does that sound familiar?
        My hopes and prayers are that once people, all people have access to all information, the inherent goodness in people will prevail because the non-goodness, or some might argue ‘evil’ in people is only in a minority. Albeit a very vocal minority.
        People need information. Any information, so long as it provokes intellectual dissertation.
        Of course, there will be an unfortunate period where there will be chaos and it’s that, that I think you refer to. @ CASTRO’s dire predictions are relevant in the short term and I think he’ll be proven correct in his projections but the long term looks good in my view.
        We wake up, having been strapped into a fairground virtual reality mind warp machine in a present/future after paying bottles of water to experience the bizarre and historically ghastly world of Earth 2019.
        We walk off shaking at the knees thanking the Gods it’s not actually real.
        On the subject of Facebook. Just don’t. Don’t do it. You don’t need to, so don’t. Don’t feed the monster. Someone who was once a great friend said to me “ If you want to protest in a contemporary way? Don’t spend your money with them. Don’t buy their shit.”
        Don’t line the freaky, freaky, freaky people’s pockets. Bezos? Fuck Amazon. Who needs their shit. Make it, fix it or buy it at a proper market. Zuckerberg? What a dick? Why would you? I was signed up to Facebook for about a week some years ago. Same with Linkedin. That did me. Fuck. That. Here’s what you do instead. Rescue a dog. Dig up your lawn/creek bank/roadside and start growing things. Anything. Pot, carrots… What ever. Flowers! Perfect. Start a bee hive because bees are fucking awesome. Tell the local council weed spray person to fuck off. ( You can actually, legally do that. You fill in a little form down at the council, pop up a couple of No Spraying signs and you’re good to go.) In the nicest possible way, of course. Buy a solar panel with the necessaries. Start a CB radio club. ( You don’t seriously think the internet will be around for much longer do you? When the Net goes down, everything goes down man. ) Go get a chicken! Chickens are fun to watch and are edible. ( Aw. Poor little chicken.)
        Finally and most importantly; we must be kind to the like minded kind and brutal to the arseholes.
        This episode of Black Mirror? You must all see it.
        1st episode/ 3rd series.

    • yes Castro just like the peasant revolt and it wont matter if you have gated communities no one will be safe just like my ancestor Te Kooti who took his land back after being wrongfully imprisoned

    • These protests are a turning point in France and internationally, marking the initial re-entry of the working class onto the political stage.

      Anger at staggering levels of social inequality, ever-deeper poverty and misery, the enrichment of a tiny elite and state repression, is beginning to erupt among workers worldwide. Alongside the “yellow vests,” the greatest upsurge of the world proletariat in decades is unfolding. Mass US teachers strikes, wildcat strikes of Mexican maquiladora workers, and strikes against European Union (EU) wage freezes across Europe, have erupted alongside strikes by plantation workers and civil servants in the Indian subcontinent and mass protests for the overthrow of military regimes in Sudan and Algeria. These struggles have all advanced a militant rejection of the diktat of the banks, and demands for profound social change.

  4. I’m surprised that you pass off Brexit as “that great victory of the ignorant and the angry”, Chris. I see it as the victory of a majority that wants parliamentary sovereignty returned to Westminster instead of Brussels. Support is not confined to the marginalised or the ignorant or the angry. The toffs that write in the Daily Telegraph are also in favour — despite the fact their class probably does very well out of globalisation.

  5. The same fear that the Catholic Church had when the bible was publihsed in the vernacular and then to the many via the printing press.

    The same fear felt by both King and the landlords at the threat posed by the Levellers.

    And the same fear of men at equality in law and politics and in society of the woman.

    Whenever an established estate of power is threatened, someone who has had privilege within that estate – TV, radio or print bemoans the loss of power they themselves then wield to mould the opinion of others. They would, would they not?

    We are simply in an age when the supremacy of European-American civilisation is coming to an end – economically and militariliy (god of mammon and fortresses) an empire of the conquisitidor and its Protestant counter-part are coming to an end.

    Some of those who applauded the downfall of apartheid in South Africa sound more like Pieta Botha than de Klerk when the bell tolls for their own world regime.

    • That may be so, SPC, but I suspect the West would rather destroy the planet than hand it over to Rudyard Kipling’s “lesser breeds without the law”. What’s more, it has the power to do it. And even if the Old King of the West decides to die quietly in his bed, his successor, the new King of the East, is unlikely to offer the world anything better. Indeed, it is likely to be worse. Just ask the Uighurs.

      • You define the West in a narrow way. Even the Americans who would GW Bush Burn the planet and those who establish their end time Zion are not one and the same (one of the Koch brothers and Soros have formed an alliance against further war).

  6. So in what way is what Marat did any different from contemporary publications engaging in, say, beneficiary bashing? Obviously, we don’t have mobs killing them, but only because it’s illegal, not for lack of fervour.
    The media is not politically agnostic. I would argue that the will to filter out madness in favour of coherent policy never existed, or only while it suited. The reason it is becoming an issue is that the policies of extracting wealth from the lower socio-economic classes and concentrating it in fewer and fewer hands don’t have coherence, but they must be sold as if they did.
    There is only one group that influences the editorial policies of the world’s newspapers and broadcasting networks, and it’s not the masses.

  7. Social media is many ways a reaction to the antics of an MSM who often look like little more than scribes for global neo liberalism and the status quo.

    That is not to say social media is perfect but within the white noise there are intelligent, capable people who are simply tired of business as usual which has seen inequality rise along with other issues like climate destruction.

    I hope social media grows. Its a great foil to a society sometimes mired in luddite attitudes and an MSM and govt who at times can’t or wont see the writing that’s on the electronic wall.

    • Sean Kearney: “….there are intelligent, capable people who are simply tired of business as usual which has seen inequality rise along with other issues like climate destruction.”

      Yup. When such people can’t get their views into the public arena any other way, they resort to social media.

      “I hope social media grows. Its a great foil to a society sometimes mired in luddite attitudes and an MSM and govt who at times can’t or wont see the writing that’s on the electronic wall.”

      My view as well. There’s that “wisdom of the crowds” thing which is maybe being overlooked.

      Moreover, the big difference between the common people during the French Revolution and those now using social media is literacy. It makes a difference, no doubt about it.

      As to the MSM, for all of my considerable lifetime, it has presented propaganda-as-news for public consumption, at least with regard to international affairs and politics. From what I’ve seen, things are no better now than they were when I was a child. It took Noam Chomsky and the rise of the internet to alert me to how comprehensively we’ve been misled, about so many issues, over so many decades. Nowadays, I take pretty much nothing reported in the MSM at face value. I know that I’m not alone in this.

      • “I take pretty much nothing reported in the MSM at face value. I know that I’m not alone in this.”

        Yes. And the people who can see the fakery have been labelled “deplorables”.

  8. Ah, the joys of free speech

    Where the Village Idiot is given equal platform with philosophers, scientists, writers, poets, etc

    And woe betide “de platforming” the Village Idiot

    Without the Idiot we would not know the perils of vaccination, the moon landing was faked, humans walked with dinosaurs, flouridation is a communist plot and 1080 is a conspiracy to kill all life on Earth

    Thus ended Human civilsation. Not with a bang or whimper , but in crass ignorance

    • And “the attempted gun buy back will make us safer”
      Yes fools can speak on many topics they know nothing of.

    • Mjolnir: “Ah, the joys of free speech

      Where the Village Idiot is given equal platform with philosophers, scientists, writers, poets, etc”

      Again: free speech is the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint. It entails nothing about intellectual capacity. The rest of us are perfectly capable of judging for ourselves which opinions have value and which do not.


      It’s “fluoridation”.

      • Thank you. I’ll spell flooradation however I deem fit. Free speech doesn’t demand accuracy

        “free speech is the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint”

        Or repercussion?

        • Mjolnir: “Or repercussion?”

          That’s the way free speech works, yes. It’s not what people say, but what they do, that is of moment.

          We may be offended by what others say, but it doesn’t at all follow that they should be stopped from saying it.

          “I’ll spell flooradation however I deem fit”

          This isn’t the 16c: there has in the interim been standardisation of spelling, especially of scientific terms such as this one. Misspellings, deliberate or otherwise, tend to be a marker of the anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists. I assume that you wouldn’t wish to be thought of as being in that category.

    • Chris, Your historical facts are not accurate. The cause of the split between the Girondin faction and the Jacobin was not mainly due to Marat’s influence, and his death predated the rise of the Great Terror.
      And Chris, I usually agree with your analysis of current situations, but here I must disagree. The common people, the workers and looking-for-workers, must have a way to voice their views.
      The problem is not with them. Nor it is simply that they are manipulated — because so are the middle class, the educated, the technocrats, and with even less excuse.
      I’m thinking mainly of us, here in NZ. I can’t control what the Brits do [as its “voice of reason” the Guardian daily attacks Jeremy Corbyn (I wish we had a Jeremy Corbyn here!)] or what the US rulers do and say. But I do have a voice here…what is your view on how we here in NZ should decide key issues?? I’ll say, for myself, that finding some way to overturn neoliberalism would be my key focus. So please, everyone, don’t attack me! I’m sincerely trying to find out what you think!

      • Hmmm, MJH, I’m pretty sure that I didn’t claim any of that.

        In terms of his political allegiances, Marat was, to all intents and purposes, a Jacobin. His attacks on the Girondins, therefore, constituted what we today would call the media arm of the National Assembly-based Jacobins’ parliamentary campaign against the moderates.

        The Reign of Terror, in all its bloody infamy, may have post-dated Marat (unless, of course, you take the September Massacres as its start-date) but only thanks to Charlotte Corday’s kitchen knife.

  9. There needs to be a Global E taking day. Everyone everywhere drops a good E at a perfectly synchronised time. All social problems would cease to be. No one can hate when they’re in love with everything. And once we find ‘love’ there can be no going back. No one can be de enlightened. It’s like chillies. Once you get a taste for them? There’s no going back. Love and peace is much easier on the stomach lining than hate and turmoil and it is a quite simple thing. You don’t need a degree, you don’t even need to know much about anything in particular. Just shut up and get fluffy.

  10. I think our salvation lies as ever in the shortest line between A and B. Mesmery about strange techno- media doesne help. Speak the truth, or at least yours. Being mystified by the new means of communicating … we all share dropping our pants. Hence Sanders and Corbyn. If you’re the sort of shit who likes ‘ in the meanwhile’ you’ve ended us here.

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