The Aggregate: Too Much Tourism // An Old School Suggestion for Social Media
“Aggregate is a unique word. As a noun, it indicates different elements brought together in the same place. As a verb, it seeks to collect and assemble disparate pieces to create a more cohesive whole. This column seeks to do both of those things; breaking down some important stories in print journalism each week and presenting them in more bite-sized pieces.”
How Much Tourism is Too Much?
The Atlantic – Annie Lowrey, “Too Many People Want to Travel”
If it feels like a good chunk of the people you follow on Instagram are scattered across the world at any given time, you may be witnessing the growing phenomenon of overtourism. In this article from The Atlantic, Annie Lowrey examines the effects of overcrowding and surging tourist numbers in some of the world’s most travel-worthy places.
“This phenomenon is known as overtourism, and like breakfast margaritas on an all-inclusive cruise, it is suddenly everywhere. A confluence of macroeconomic factors and changing business trends have led more tourists crowding to popular destinations. That has led to environmental degradation, dangerous conditions, and the immiseration and pricing-out of locals in many places. And it has cities around the world asking one question: Is there anything to be done about being too popular?”
There are certain places that rely on the tourism industry as an economic lifeline. Conversely, there are other places in the world in which more harm than good is being done by the growing number of visitors. This growth is caused by a combination of factors, which Lowrey delve into:
“The root cause of this surge in tourism is macroeconomic. The middle class is global now, and tens of millions of people have acquired the means to travel over the past few decades. […] International-tourist arrivals around the world have gone from a little less than 70 million as of 1960 to 1.4 billion today: Mass tourism, again, is a very new thing and a very big thing.”
The sheer volume of tourists weighs not only on economies and infrastructures of cities and countries, but strains the environment through which tourists must travel as well. Social media, and the false premise of accessibility that comes with it, is another factor that is driving this phenomenon.
“Overtourism itself is a media phenomenon as much as it is anything else. The word catapulted into common use in 2017, with wall-to-wall coverage of the problems in Venice, Bali, and elsewhere helping to drive the global backlash against tourists as well as the backlash to the backlash.”
Governments and citizens across the world have begun to come up with ways to negate the negative effects tourism is having on their homelands.
“There’s too much of a good thing in some of these spots, and mayors and city councils are doing their part to take it away. A number of places have implemented or expanded or proposed tourist taxes […] Those kinds of measures stand to become more important in the coming years, as the global middle class gets bigger, social media more ubiquitous, and travel cheaper.”
Overtourism is a growing phenomenon that stands to reshape much of how we think about traveling and how we move about the globe. Finding a middle ground that allows culturally significant locales to thrive, while also fostering enough global appreciation for these spaces, is uncharted territory into which the citizens of the world must travel together.
The Fairness Doctrine, but Make it Modern
Slate – April Glaser, “Bring Back the Golden Age of Broadcast Regulation”
This article comes to us during yet another struggle for social media platforms – specifically YouTube – to regulate and combat hateful content and misinformation being disseminated on platforms without stepping on the First Amendment protection rights of those posting said content. In this article from Slate, April Glaser makes an argument for a more retro way of approaching content regulations on social media.
“What almost everyone would probably agree on is this: Social media platforms like YouTube are a mess, and every time they try to clean up their mess, they fail in one way or another. It may well be time for the government to do something, but many people assume that any resulting action would be a blow to free speech: Someone is bound to be silenced by overreaching feds.”
The most difficult part about these issues is that, inevitably, there will be perceived “winners” and “losers” when companies actually do start making decisions. To this end, relying on historical precedent as a way to set new regulations may be a way to ease tensions between social media companies and the rest of the public.
“For decades, radio and television followed regulations—hardly heavy-handed ones—meant to ensure they served the information needs of their audiences and did not actively harm political discourse. […] The internet is a resource that was built by government researchers. Thinking about the largest internet platforms as a kind of infrastructure is a useful place to start considering what light-touch regulation over their broadcasting functions might look like. Social media platforms impact the public interest. And so they should serve it.”
The key phrase here is “public interest.” This was the Gold Standard for media regulations in the era of radio and early television, and is an idea around which we could structure more modern regulations.
“But if we’re uncomfortable with giving Facebook and YouTube all of that power over how citizens debate, it isn’t crazy to insist that the government can play a carefully defined role. It wouldn’t mean that the feds would decide what is and is not acceptable speech on the platforms. But it could mean rules against broadcasting hateful views or disinformation to large audiences. Freedom of speech isn’t the same thing as the freedom to broadcast that speech.”
Another key difference between social media and traditional broadcast media comes from the number of people who have access to social media on a daily basis. The scope and scale of the situation make it all the more urgent.
“Communications infrastructure, particularly when that technology has a broadcast function, is powerful. […] Politicians who are thinking now about what to do about the mess that social media has become might find inspiration in policies that guided broadcast technology for decades—policies rooted in an understanding that corporations that want to make as much money as possible will always prioritize profits above all else. Protecting the safety of their users will always come second. That’s where laws are supposed to come in. It’s time we got some.”
Understanding how and why these companies operate – and continue to operate – the way that they do will provide powerful insight for those who strive to make social media a safer and less polarized environment.
Thanks so much for reading; we’ll see you again next time.