I would like to weigh in to the seemingly endless debate about the place of social media within the current discourses about politics, media and most things in-between and the large number of problems I have with no only the medium on a technical level, but those that evangelise about it’s importance. To me, it does seem like the whole social media world is turning into a vapid echo chamber. One that is not going to bring about some sort of media revolution, but instead descend into a feast of self-indulgence that’s going to accomplish nothing but lower further lowering the bar that is what we expect from our media outlets.
There are growing numbers of people that seem to think every connectivity platform is the greatest thing since sliced bread and that anyone who doesn’t use them is slow, dimwitted and probably not worth giving the time of day to. These people also fail to realise that there are substantial problems within the whole social media system that limit just how useful it is in getting information out in a way that makes sense.
The most obvious example of the echo chamber are the endless social media conferences that seem to be running on a constant rotation every other bloody day. I seriously think that there are more social media conferences then there are sitting days in the federal parliament – I feel that says something.
But that’s not really the point. The point is what goes on that these conferences. Looking at the information that comes out of them, it would appear as though little goes on except for people who are on social media networks talking to other people who are on social media networks about how awesome it is that they are on social media networks. This preaching to the choir doesn’t to anything to help extend the knowledge of social media to those that may not understand just what the medium is capable of delivering.
Further to this, because you’re constantly talking about the same things to the same people, there’s never anything new that comes out of these gatherings. Just the same regurgitated, buzz-word laden garbage that we’ve been hearing for the last 4 years or so.
These sort of conferences accomplish exactly nothing. They are pointless and only exist to be self-serving excises for people that are already using social media. See? Echo chamber.
One of the ideas that that the social media evangelists always trumpet is that this medium is going to be a
platform that will replace the established mainstream media companies as a news provider. In one sense that are correct. But there is no way that services like Twitter and Facebook are going to completely replace what we know as professional journalism.
Twitter does have its uses, however. As a tool for quickly and efficiently disseminating information it is, quite simply, superb. But speed isn’t all that reporting the news is about and there are limitations on what Twitter is best at delivering to people seeking information about current events.
Where Twitter falls short is in the platform’s ability to provide analysis and context in a manner that’s easily understood by anyone that looks at the stream if information about an event. Twitter relies on the user to put each piece of the puzzle correctly into its place in order to gain the full picture of anything. That’s where the power of more traditional journalism and reporting comes in. Being able to gather information not only from the social networks but from other sources. They’re also better able to compile this information and provide an accurate, encompassing overview of what is happening and what it means within a wider context.
Which then begs the question at just what level of influence these networks are starting to have on the mainstream media, if any at all? When you start to look at what Twitter and the like have done to discussion of national politics then you can really see the echo chamber in action – especially in relation to how the last two federal elections panned out.
First, let me say this: Twitter did not elect Kevin. Twitter did not elect Barrack Obama. Fact. If you believe that, you’re a fucking moron. What elected these two men was a deep and bitter resentment of their countries incumbent governments. Simple.
Secondly, in spite of what the evangelists will tell you, Twitter did not add anything of any use (via the #AusVotes hashtag) to the coverage of the 2010 federal election. The entire stream was filled with party stooges from all sides (Liberal, Labor, Green and all flavours in between) spewing meaningless party drivel and taking pathetic, shallow pot shots at anyone who showed anything that could be construed as a contrary argument to their position. It was full of people bitching about how there was on policy coming from either of two major parties. It was just crap. It was as bad as the mainstream media’s commentary. In fact, it might have even been worse because of the hypocrisy of users trying to claim that it was so fucking awesome. Simple fact of the matter is that it wasn’t. It wasn’t even close.
To me, bitching and whining about how bad something is does not constitute a better “discussion” on a topic. But that’s all that social media really provided.
The problems with social media and it’s rapid transformation into an echo chamber extend beyond just these few examples. There are a number of fundamental structural flaws within the whole idea of “democratising news” that are also not being addressed by the advocates of the platform.
That, however, shall be addressed in another post.