Social Media as Community Conversation

While reading Chapter 4 of Qulaman’s book Socialnomics, I found myself both agreeing and disagreeing with his arguments. On page 61, Qualman states, “It is essential that traditional broadcasters [news] embrace socialnomics, otherwise, they will be overrun into oblivion.” This statement is most likely accurate. It is probably safe to assume that every major news organization, print and broadcast alike, have embraced some sort of social media, or combination thereof to reach their audiences. The use of online newspapers and you tube broadcasts is necessary to reach younger generations who spend a lot of time on computers. Indeed, print journalists are now more and more expected to both write hardcopy and for the web. 

However, I think that the print version and the traditional TV broadcasts will continue to exist for years to come. A large portion of population in the U.S. is 50 and older are perhaps more accustomed or prefer to read traditional papers and enjoy watching the 6 or 10 o’clock news. Qualman quotes Andrew Hayward, ‘We should be careful of these zero-sum games where the new media drives out the old.’ That is, a balance is necessary between traditional coverage and coverage presented through social media. Qualman goes on to argue that social media greatly helped our current president win the election in 2008—so did the traditional media and all of the traditional campaigning and speeches. Yes social media spread the message to millions of people, but the speeches were given to live audiences. Thus, to some degree, one could argue that social media is no different than any other medium; it just restates what has already taken place. What makes social media different then, is the fact that once a speech is posted, it exists forever, and people can view content over and over and post messages about it. It goes “viral.” As such, a single speech, a moment in history, may be preserved and disseminated for criticism or praise. Individuals may base their decisions regarding the speech not only on what was said by the speaker, but also by what all the other social media users have said about it. A conversation is formed.

Social media, I believe, may offer a useful forum for facilitating on-line communities and communication. However, one concern may be that people viewing these conversations may make decisions based on the content—which may be purely opinion—or even false. This possibility has always existed, but it seems that social media and the huge volume of “views” and people who follow a topic create a large space and audience for the dissemination of misinformation.

To change topics slightly, I also found Qualman’s section entitled: Is the Flu a Virus or Just Simply Viral? I just heard on the news (traditional TV broadcast) that the campaigns use data from web searches to determine which topics to cover in their advertisements. That is, they analyze search engine word trends—if the work Medicare is a very popular search, the politicians address Medicare. Until I saw this on the news, I did not realize to what extent this data was used. Everything that is typed into a search engine is tracked and analyzed. Further, this data can be sorted by location, so campaigns can determine what a specific region is most interested in—it is their form of audience analysis I suppose. Similar to social media, I have mixed feelings on this topic. Rather than a candidate discussing what is truly important to them, or, for that matter being honest, candidates can now simply go to a state and talk about what she/he already knows is the concern. Is this good for democracy overall?

Qualman goes on to state, “Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Independent, or a member of the Bull Moose Party, you can’t deny the power of real-world community relations combined with the reach and engagement of online social communities and networks to change politics as usual.” Qualman is right—one can not deny the power of social media and online communities. On the other hand, the past few years politically have been as gridlocked and partisan as ever before. Is social media a contributing factor to the political situation we are in, or is it a means to facilitate be-partisan compromises? Or, is social media neither, but rather only a virtual place for people to talk about what is really ocurring?

Posted on October 7, 2012, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I think you raise some good questions at the end of your post. I’ve been wondering the same thing about the effect that social media is having on our political process. On the surface it does seem that it would stimulate more debate and could facilitate discussions between people to arrive at sensible compromises, but if my FB feed is any indication there is absolutely no openness to compromise. People on the Left rant and people on the Right rant, and everyone else just says nothing because they don’t want to get dragged into the muck.

    I don’t think I have any friends that ever post anything about how a sensible compromise could be reached on any serious subject. Again, no one wants to be the ringmaster of that circus.

    There is one point that I disagree with you on a little bit, though. You said, “Thus, to some degree, one could argue that social media is no different than any other medium; it just restates what has already taken place.” I think there is a big difference between social media and other media.

    I keep finding myself coming back to Marshall McLuhan who said, “The medium is the message.” There is a big difference between reading a speech in the news paper, or listening to it on the radio, or seeing it in person, or watching it on your computer wearing headphones. Also, most of the people that are clicking on a video within Facebook are doing it because they were referred by a friend and they can see on the page that there are 167,000 likes, and read comments about the event (both pro and con).

    Wikipedia describes what McLuhan meant by saying, ” . . . that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.” I think that all media distort/shape the messages they send, social media is just a different prism.

  2. Paul, you said: “Similar to social media, I have mixed feelings on this topic. Rather than a candidate discussing what is truly important to them, or, for that matter being honest, candidates can now simply go to a state and talk about what she/he already knows is the concern. Is this good for democracy overall?”

    I would venture to say this is a major improvement on campaigning. I don’t really care what a candidate thinks is important – I want to know what he’s going to do about what I care about. They may be forced to formulate a stance on an issue they have been conveniently ignoring, but find that can no longer ignore because “the people” care too much about it. Doing something about what is important for the constituents will be his or her job, after all. So I suppose to answer your rhetorical question, yes, I do think politicians’ use of search tracking is good for democracy overall. As an added bonus, they must have to hire someone to collect, organize and analyze the data. Voila! Job creation! 😛

  3. I think it is important to know what the candidate will do for us as constituents, and perhaps social media can provide candidates with insight on important topics. However, there is a difference between simply saying what the audeince wants to hear based on search tracking data and what politicians will actually fight for. I would argue that we need to find out what politicians values are, what is importatn to them, in order to find out if what they are saying is what they actually believe and will be fighting for. Of course, this problem has existed for a long time–trying to determine which candidate will do what he/she says.

    Regarding the previous comment: The medium is the message–I agree. Indeed, receivers of a mesage will likely interpret the meaning of that message differently based on the medium through which it is transferred–newspaper, radio, TV, or social media. I can see how Facebook certainly adds an element of conversation to the message–creating a forum for discussion. I also agree with your last comment, “I think that all media distort/shape the messages they send, social media is just a different prism.” A message transferred through a medium will be inherently altered–it is just a matter of how much it is changed.

  4. I also agree that traditional TV news broadcasts won’t be going away any time soon. The thing with books like Socialnomics is that 1) the examples provided are often dated by the time of publication [although I appreciate the “history lesson” they offer] and 2) there’s often a segment of the population left out. The target audience of this book is NOT the retired/over 65 crowd so the bulk of the scenarios explored is focused on the latest trends and what they can offer those “digital natives” at home and in the workplace.

  5. Paul,
    I’m also concerned about politicians who base their speech content on polls. While it is important to have leaders who are responsive to the real needs of constituents, I want to know who is most genuinely interested in the needs of the nation. That comes from knowing what a candidate truly believes in.

    To me, it’s similar to teaching to the test. A principal might say there’s nothing wrong with teaching to the state test–since that’s how we’re being evaluated, by all means, teach to the test. Fine, I can do that. But I haven’t always valued what was on the state test, so it’s hard to teach with the same passion as I would approach a topic I truly believe in. If the state test wants students to know the difference between a fairy tale, a tall tale, a fable, or a legend, I take care of that, but I can’t pretend I think it’s important. Ask me about To Kill and Mockingbird, and you will know what I think is really important. That’s the material I can teach with a passion. I want a President who can lead with passion.

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