Social Media as Community Conversation
Posted by paul1838
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?
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