Newsvine Redesign Has Community Up in Arms


Active social media commentators who are bailing out of what was once a very healthy social media site: Newsvine. On February 7 the site was overhauled, and many of those who used the site posted comments asking that the old site be brought back. The detractors claimed that the new site was a total mess.

No luck. The bailout began shortly afterwards, and continues to today. One Newsvine member of five years wrote "Vine Managers Have Decided: Spend days learning the new site or leave it, our voices do not count." One of the most damaging criticisms I read was that the administrators of the site were willing to waste people’s time by forcing them to learn a new and complicated site that was not intuitive. That was the kiss of death. "A website repellent that is 100% effective," one commentator wrote on his way out.

Time once credited Newsvine as one of the top social media sites where participants discussed topics freely. Why the administrators of the site would destroy it is almost incomprehensible. We might chalk it up as just "one of those things" and remember that we can never overestimate incompetence or the power of ego to motivate site-administrators to insist it be done "our way." These explanations would normally be sufficient and the matter would end there — just a strange and bizarre self-destruct.  

What may raise questions about this explanation is that on the same day that the administrators of NBC’s Newsvine ruined it, NBC shut down another the award-winning site completely. Everyblock allowed people to discuss and act on neighbourhood news and civic data from 19 U.S. cities. It was shuttered on February 7. Now we have two social media sites, each demolished on the same day, each owned by a mega-corporation. This is an unfortunate coincidence of huge proportions to those who discussed issues and met like-minded folks on these two sites.

The far-flung alternative hypothesis is that NBC shut down both of these sites to diminish the power of social media to raise awareness of the need for activism for the environment, for jobs, or for a sane foreign policy. What moves this possibility from the category of "far-flung" to "interesting" is that the reasons given for wrecking each of these sites are implausible. Allegedly, NBC closed down Everyblock because NBC couldn’t afford it. The Vine was similarly wrecked because it needed to be "fixed." The implausibility of these two reasons, plus the coincidence of the effective shutdowns, plus the desire of the establishment (to re-introduce a word that we should be using again) to control young people and the flow of information, does raise the interesting hypothesis that this was done to diminish the power of social media.

I’m not going to belabour this "conspiratorial" hypothesis. What I do want to emphasize is another sign that the establishment wants to re-exert control: the concerted mainstream propaganda against Occupy Wall Street and the police-clampdown on that movement. The attack on Occupy by mainstream media and by FBI-coordinated police actions demonstrates how much the Establishment wants to keep protest, criticism, and awareness to a minimum.   

The Establishment is pushing for the legal right to go even further in shutting down our voices.  Obama, the figurehead of the establishment, wants to have the right for the military to jail American citizens indefinitely and without trial. Chris Hedges has been an outspoken critic of that move, embedded in the National Defence Authorization Act, and, along with Noam Chomsky and other plaintiffs, has been able so far to block the effort in court. The excuse for indefinite detainment would be having contact with people or groups that the administration considered to be terrorists, and so anyone who had interviewed or even spoken with someone whom the administration deemed a terrorist —and that label is growing wider by the day — would be liable for indefinite jail without a trial. That’s why the likes of Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky challenged this decidedly draconian measure in federal court.  You’d think the Obama administration would relent and leave our constitutional liberties intact. But no, the Obama administration continues on, trying to overcome the court ruling that protects our constitutional rights and the right of habeas corpus, one of the foundational pillars of our system of law.

Whether or not NBC did what it did as part of a general approach to silencing our voices is, in the end, irrelevant. We need to be vigilant. We do know that the mainstream media and the establishment behind it do not voice our concerns. We need to pay attention to the attacks on our voices and our interests. We need to speak to each other as well as "speak truth to power." We need to acknowledge that natural resources are limited, climate change is a fact, species are going extinct, young people have a huge unemployment rate, college graduates are imprisoned with debts they cannot undo, and our grandchildren are facing a world more dire in all of these ways.  We need to acknowledge all of this as well as try to influence public policy to respond to these facts.

The establishment doesn’t like us speaking out, of course, and we can expect it to do whatever it can to inhibit us, whether it means shutting down websites or wrecking ones that people found useful. At stake? The wellbeing of our nation, of ourselves and our communities, the future of our grandchildren, and the survival of many species of animals on our planet. Since life as we know it is at stake, we need to continue talking about these urgent concerns and supporting those social media sites that welcome our voices.