Every minute of the day: 48 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube; 100 000 tweets are posted; 3 600 new photos are created with Instagram; 684 478 pieces of content are… blah, blah, blah. We’ve all heard the stats, we’ve shared the infographic and marveled at all the YouTube videos we’d (in most cases, thankfully) never see.
Meanwhile: Saudi Arabia is preparing to ban WhatsApp from operating inside the kingdom; Iran is building a Ḥalāl version of the Internet; and a secret court in America is preventing tech companies from revealing details around what information the NSA have gathered in investigations on their own citizens.
What does this have to do with story? To understand that, we need to travel to Rome back in 96 AD. Emperor Domitian has just been assassinated, essentially by his butler. Domitian was the third and last of the Flavian Emperors and he was the longest ruling emperor for 50 years.
Domitian was an autocrat who earned the hate of the Roman Senate. He was a hardlining moralist who dictated to his people. But far from being the cruel tyrant he has come to be known, Domitian was a good ruler that rooted out corruption, promoted cultural integration, strengthened the economy and ended up fostering peace in the years following his death.
How was a man, who did so much good, demonized throughout history? Did I mention that the Roman Senate despised Domitian? For good reason – he removed their authority by seizing power and rendering them obsolete. Once Domitian was killed, the Senate declared damnatio memoriae and tried to erase him from history. Statues of the emperor were altered to resemble his successor, his coins were melted down and his name was moved from all public records.
As time went on, any contemporary records of Domitian’s achievements were hidden. Generations after his murder, historians wrote of his reign based on stories related to them through oral tradition. Because these stories originated from the aristocratic class, they painted the man in a negative light. This revisionist view of a leader became the accepted truth until archaeological and economic tools prompted current historians to change their views on Domitian.
What does this have to do with the exponential growth in user-generated content and the institunionalised censorship of today? With so many platforms that are so freely available to anyone with an Internet connection, it makes it so much more important to control the context of your identity, and the best way to control your context is to control the narrative that surrounds you. So unless you’re happy for someone else to determine your context – like Charles Ramsay here – you better develop your own narrative.