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by Chris Wheatley

Art and censorship – Faron Sage on social media bias

Music’s relationship with the internet has come under the microscope in recent weeks, with the Spotify controversy rolling on. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell have withdrawn their work from the streaming platform, yet these two artists hold privileged positions – they are established stars who can afford to pick and choose whom they work with. Where does that leave the many independent creatives who rely upon Spotify, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other social media giants to reach their audience, and whose ideology may run counter to that promoted by the online businesses which are increasingly dominant in people’s lives?

Is it possible, now, for an artist to build a career whilst steering clear of the big social media sites? “It’s very difficult,” observes genre-hopping, socially-conscious musician and writer, Faron Sage, “because that is where the majority of public attention is. That’s not to say it can’t be done. There are plenty of alternative avenues that can be used to build a following, and there are also always cases of certain artists slipping through the nets and breaking out into the public consciousness. But it feels like those nets are closing in, and it’s getting harder and harder for an independent artist to get their voice heard, especially if that voice is at odds with the mainstream narrative.”

“There are democratic elements to social media platforms,” Sage continues, “and they have certainly helped to get a wider range of voices out into the world. However, the algorithms are ultimately used to further the interests of the platforms themselves, rather than for the common good.” As Sage notes, this can lead to a vicious cycle – how can we trust media platforms not to censor thoughts and opinions which question and challenge the very nature of those media platforms themselves?

Should we be concerned, then, at the power which these sites hold? “Absolutely,” says Sage, “it’s potentially incredibly dangerous. We’ve seen more and more clearly over the last few years how powerfully the mainstream media control the narrative, and the major social media platforms are very much part of the mainstream media.” I put it to Sage that the general public tend to forget that Facebook, Instagram et al are profit-driven companies, not disinterested facilitators. “I think people don’t care enough about what they’re being told and who is behind it all,” he replies, “Ultimately we have all been brought up by the system and are part of the system, so that means that the system has become a fundamental part of us.”

As Sage points out, we need to understand that social media is never going to provide a balanced view. “The way it’s controlled and manipulated makes it very difficult,” he observes, “the algorithms create tailored bubbles of reality that are reflections of what we already believe and think. So we end up in our own echo chamber that reinforces our current position, rather than encouraging us to see the bigger picture.”