Hello, cherished reader. Let me pose you a question;

What is Social Media?

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I imagine that answers such as “Facebook” and “Twitter” are present, and you’re adding that to wider definitions such as “a means of communicating with my friends and family at any time, en-masse or individually.” All of these are traditionally accepted definitions, and I’m sure yours is better than ours. However, as every website has a feedback button, and every topic has a forum, and every e-mail has a subscribe button – surely it is now the case that all media, is social media? Media after all, is designed to be social – if nobody is talking about it, does it really matter (ergo, tree falling in the woods conundrums)? There’s no end of opportunities for us to share information with each other, and with intelligent algorithms or user interaction, we typically discover the crowd-sourced most important topics as they’re “voted” to the top of the pile.

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There are, however, dangers here. What if those who are at the top of the pile, never wanted their story shared at all? What if the topics most read are also the most dangerous – explicit content, extremist views, misleading or false? Social media enables the rapid sharing of information, but all too often at the price of actually questioning the validity and quality of the information we receive. Writers look the be on-trend, and rightly so. The shelf life of a story has never been shorter. And indeed, the variants and interactions available on a story have never been more – Facebook and Twitter, in the end, can’t thrive without difference of opinion.

We see this challenge to the writer played out on a daily basis, as they grapple to manage the balance of opinion and substance across platforms. This blog has written extensively on the curiosity gap and Buzzfeed style reporting, mainly because it works. The modern format of “snackable” news that is easily digested and consumed by the reader allows us to be aware of more topics, and form opinion on these subjects. Unfortunately, the rapid consumption and opinion forming rarely allows for critical and processed thought.

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Consider the Netflix sensation, “Making a Murderer”. Without a doubt, this was by far one of the most truly divisive pieces of programming in modern times. Conflicting judgements were made on a range of subjects across all media platforms – from stances on policing, to the verdict on the case, and down to the appropriateness of the show itself. It’s both unfair and unreasonable to assume that all members and associates of those involved with the case would have wanted it to air. However Netflix, one can only assume, considered either that A) the case was in the public interest, or B) the profit potential and media storm benefit outweighed any ethical deficit in the event the case wasn’t in the public interest.

Why is this an issue? The question, and the point that should be taken away, is that it wasn’t the courts or each individual who got to make the decision – it was a third-party, in this case, Netflix. As mentioned towards the start of the article, all media is social. And by deduction, nothing shared is ever secret. Sadly, it’s not likely to be you who determines the content shared, by whom, and the manner in which it is received. The media, in all forms, can serve as our judge, jury, and executioner – without the ability to prosecute, but with the unsolicited power to irreversibly damage an individuals reputation or social footprint. We don’t argue that this should change, but do argue that this should be observed and respected. By respecting that power, and understanding the effect you can have when wielding it in your social media interactions, you can be more than a social media user, you can be a positive contributor to people’s lives. And so, reader, I ask you again;

What is Social Media?

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