As argued in the first and second parts of this series, the millennials were the first generation born with a computer in the home, leading many to assume they would be the best informed generation. However, the millennials grew up with flawed media industry. As a result, they are informed by a concentrated, homogenized and biased corporate media, which peddles infotainment and serves, rather than questions, those in power. In response to the lackadaisical coverage of their generation’s problems, millennials are partaking in a media revolution. They rely on non-traditional decentralized methods—including whistleblowers, the web, and handheld technology—to produce, distribute, and access information. They perform the duty of the press, exposing abuses by those in power and maintaining our democratic system. The previous generations may have removed the regulations that protected a fact-based news media characterized by integrity and diversity, but the millennials are working outside of traditional frameworks to re-define who can and should educate the public on the abuses committed by those in power.
Millennials are using the Internet to spread information relevant to the public. Journalist Thomas Friedman argued that the world became “flat” as instant communication and the sharing of good and ideas is happening everywhere. Millennials have adapted and are diversifying the media in the “flat world” through Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and other web tools. They educate and connect with each other by sharing files, videos, and alternative press articles. Facebook dominated social networking with 93% of millennials using it. However, as Facebook becomes more commercialized, millennials are increasingly moving to “Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp.” Since 1976, the non-profit media watchdog Project Censored has covered thousands of news stories and topics censored by the mainstream press. However, in a “flat world” the censorship concerning the 2011 Occupy Movement was lessened as people around the world could witness what was happening without media spin. Its global visibility made it impossible for the corporate media to ignore, and independent news coverage made it possible for the public to assess how corporate media misrepresented or otherwise censored the movement.
The media revolution is partly enabled by high quality, concealable, handheld recording technology, which millennials and others use to document the lies and unpopular philosophies of those in power. On the 2012 Presidential campaign trail, a bartender named Scott Prouty shot a video of Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s stating “There are 47 percent of the people [who] believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Once released on the web, Romney’s presidential prospects dimmed. In 2013, Texas Councilwoman Elisa Chan’s public support dropped when her millennial aid James Stevens used his smartphone to record Chan’s self-proclaimed “disgust” with an anti-LGBT discrimination bill.[ Use of handheld recording has also been crucial in exposing animal abuse in factory farming. One video found “workers throwing a bowling ball at a pig’s head, and kicking, throwing, hitting, body slamming, and otherwise torturing pigs.” This release and others like it energized the anti-factory farming movement.
Since millennials cannot depend on corporate media to cover abuses by those in power, the media revolution depends on alternative structures that allow for the dissemination of sensitive material. Since 2006, Julian Assange’s non-profit organization WikiLeaks has published documents from anonymous sources for public consumption. After WikiLeaks exposed abuses by elites in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Jordan, it led to revolutions in those nations. In 2013, the international trade deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) may have failed as a result of WikiLeaks exposing President Obama’s desire to create international “secret corporate tribunals, limits to bank regulation, and conditions that would increase the cost of life-saving medicines.” Other groups have developed digital methods of releasing documents. The late millennial Aaron Schartz, along with Kevin Poulsen, created DeadDrop, which “assigns each source a unique code name so a relationship can be established without news organizations ever knowing the source’s identity.”
Groups like WikiLeaks and DeadDrop provide a vehicle for whistleblowers to reveal corruption directly to the public without the corporate press misrepresenting or ignoring the information. The millennial Chelsea Manning—then Bradley Manning—gave classified US documents to WikiLeaks in 2010 after the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Politico refused to accept them. The documents showed that Iran was operating inside of Afghanistan during US occupation; US authorities were ignoring “abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers;” Egyptian torturers received FBI training in Virginia; the US hid evidence of child abuse by contractors in Afghanistan and the State Department fought against raising minimum wage in Haiti. The release included a video—now widely known as “Collateral Murder”—of a US helicopter firing on a group of men in Iraq that included a journalist, two Reuters employees, a father and his two children. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the release despite insiders arguing that the leaks did not hurt US interests.
However, no whistleblower caught more attention for his leaks than Edward Snowden. In 2012, the former specialist for the CIA and the NSA released to The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald documents exposing the US surveillance state after the Washington Post declined to publish them according to Snowden’s wishes. The documents revealed the US was spying on its citizens and other nations including both its professed enemies and allies, performing drone assassinations and computer data collection, targeting foreign embassies and diplomats, tracking cell phone locations worldwide, collecting international communications, spying via software including through video game systems, employing cyber-warfare, and intercepting mobile networks. Furthermore, the NSA databases not only spied on, but also stored email, text, voice data, call records, and Internet records of US and non-citizens. The data was bought with US tax dollars from AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Skype, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Verizon among other companies and then shared with other nations such as Israel. The leaks also exposed war crimes by the US.
By challenging and exposing the lies and abuses of those in power, the Manning and Snowden releases accomplished what those in the corporate press should have been doing for decades. The releases exposed that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress in March 2013 when he said the US did not collect data on its citizens “wittingly.” They also exposed that US surveillance programs violated a slew of constitutionally protected rights, including the First Amendment which protects the press: In fact, the government was spying on journalists from the New York Times, McClatchy, and Al Jazeera.
The millennials’ influence continues to increase as they remake American’s conception of media. The path to success is long given the power of the corporate press and its complicit politicians to misinform and undermine their efforts. However, with a collective effort by the many and the bravery of a few, a pact between alternative journalists, social networking sites, bloggers, and a public desiring truth will restore a healthy form of democratic government that the millennials can remake through the media revolution.