Social Media Essay Example
Two millennia ago, in the ancient Roman Empire, Julius Caesar declared that the activities of the Roman Senate be announced to the entire empire through a written sheet of paper called the Acta Diurna - Daily Acts. Through this declaration, arguably the first form of media as people know it developed. Like modern news agencies, the Acta Diurna created the organized distribution of information though a "one to many" system. Around two hundred years ago, in the United States, Samuel Morse created the telegraph, which revolutionized long distance communications and influenced the creation of modern cell phones and it's "one to one" system. Just around two decades ago, on the internet, the the first social media site, Six Degrees, was created in 1997. Spurring the creation of an interactive media, social media sites became extremely popular, developing into the new media buzz prevalent today. Like Facebook and Twitter and Twitter, the new social media introduced the chaos of the "many to many" system of distributing information. The chaos of the new media has problems dealing with fake news and knowledge polarization, but it's extremely powerful in spreading humanitarian aid and democracy to developing areas. Through it all, new interactive media gives the people the power to apply social order, but is too chaotic to change it.
Fake Social Media
When arguing controversial topics, the new media suffers from fake news and biased disclosure, which polarize netizens and information into cliques. The new media enables people to access a nearly unlimited amount of information, navigable with links and efficient search engines. However, in The Influencing Machine, Brooke Gladstone claims that "in the age of links, journalists can hold the trust of their audience only if they disclose -- online -- their views, values, process and, whenever possible, their sources" (131). This in turn is a risky proposal. The disclosures could introduce a climate where bias is assumed and the truth is consciously avoided or condemned. Gladstone explains this phenomenon using photoshop. She states that, "The big threat of photoshopification is not that we will believe documents and photos that are fake. It's that we'll find it easier to dis-believe documents and photos that are real. When it's convenient" (Gladstone 145). Although this claim never directly addresses the media, it creates an analogous example using photos. In the modern climate where nearly anyone could make claims and fabricate evidence, information seemingly becomes a lot more untrustworthy. Gladstone explains that under the contemporary media, " we'll find it easier to dis-believe"(131) claims that are true. The relative ease in which evidence can be changed for personal bias, makes claims opposing the reader hard to believe. Thus, in the modern climate where journalists must disclose and be pre-judged before being heard, people are likely to willfully ignore, distort, or fabricate the author's writing
"when it's convenient" (Gladstone 145).
This phenomenon where people ignore claims--even if it's true-- is an important claim about the nature of the new media, and according to the Ted Talk "How to see past your own perspective and find the truth" by Michael Lynch, the nature of humans as well. Humans using the new media are" polarized: not just over values, but over the facts. One reason for that is, the data analytics that drives the internet get us not just more information, but more of the information that we want. Our online life is personalized; everything from the ads we read to the news that comes down our Facebook feed is tailored to satisfy our preferences" (Lynch). Although we absorb a lot more information using the new media, the information reflects personal values and claims instead of reality and objective truth. Everything on the online platform is accustomed to suit the consumer -- a human. That's because humans have a unique bias towards confirmation in their claims and beliefs. Any dissenting claims by
"opposing" journalists are "conveniently" ignored.
Social Media Manipulation Methods
This leads to the second reason behind the new media's knowledge polarization. Due to the human's natural confirmation bias, social media garners many online communities in which people with similar values and beliefs can gather. Gladstone claims that "the internet's ability to link like-minded souls everywhere fosters the creation of virtually impermeable echo chambers" (Gladstone 148). Gladstone defines these "echo chambers" as isolated online cliques that only share similar and complementary claims. When members release distorted, fabricated, or straight up mendacious "evidence" or assertions to reinforce the clique's viewpoint on a particular argument, the idea "echoes" and gets louder and more certain with every repost or upvote within that clique. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard professor, furthers the drawbacks to these cliques by citing "many studies showing how people who talk only to like minded others grow more extreme. They marginalize the moderates...and demonize dissenters"(qtd. in Gladstone 148). In the end, the confirmation bias leads to a state of conflict between cliques that dissent over controversial arguments. Within these conflicts, parties are likely to grow more radical by agreeing upon mendacious evidence with each other. With radical viewpoints that are fueled by homophily and fabricated information, communities will willfully ignore dissenting perspective and arguments to fight opposing communities in a deaf, disorganized, fruitless mess. Although the new media feeds the general public with quantities of information unmatched in history, it also exacerbates people's confirmation bias and fear of fake news, which leads people having fruitless arguments fueled by unobjective truths over controversial subjects.
While the new media doesn't function well with controversial subjects, it's extremely beneficial and useful when it comes to undisputed claims. The new media is able to send aid to humanitarian crises and end tyranny -- universally accepted actions. Prior to the use of new interactive media, many humanitarian crises were reported primarily for the national or international ears to hear. In the Ted Talk "the powers and dangers of online crowds," James Surowiecki states one of his main critiques about the old media when reading the blog report a fThailand flood survivor. The blogger claims that watching the news report "was comforting in some small way to understand what had just happened to us. However, the report focused on what had already occurred and offered no information on what to expect now" (Surowiecki).
Though the old media and many citizen bloggers are able to report humanitarian crises and grab international attention, but often the outside world can be more observative than helpful. International aid may come to assist the problem, but without interactive local media, crises victims will continue to lack "information on what to expect now" (Surowiecki). In the book Citizen Rising, David Hoffman writes about the Haitian crises. Specifically, he writes about how the new interactive local radio station was crucial in aiding Haiti's 2010 major earthquake. In Hoffman's book, the head of a church aid program, who is also a earthquake survivor, states that "without the radio station, the country is dead… Without the radio station, we can't communicate. We don't have anything" (Hoffman 2030). The radio station during the Haitian crisis was unique. Instead of broadcasting information for news junkies across the world, the radio was repurposed to broadcast information designed for the earthquake victims. All day, "journalists and disc jockeys announce names of missing persons...while calmly taking frantic calls and emails from both home and abroad," (Hoffman 2028). People who can't call or email, are able to go to the radio stations with physical notes as well. They give the news agency more information on missing loved ones and locations in need of relief. With the help of the radio's announcements, cooperation and greater coordination could be achieved by the Haitians and humanitarian aids. The news agencies also reported available water, food, and shelter to thousands of crises victims. The process of using interactive local media is still relatively new, but by observing how efficient and effective it was at aiding Haiti, new media shows a promising future in humanitarian aid.
The Purpose of Media
The media is adamant in striving towards universally accepted and simple beliefs. Much like the belief that humans who are in caught in a disaster should be helped, the media also has the belief that corruptive tyrants should be overthrown. Throughout much of recent history, the media has been against tyranny. Tyrannic leaders in the past haven't had much success in ruling under a free media. This phenomenon is so noticeable that David Hoffman even gave it a name:
"The Dictator's Dilemma." Hoffman writes:
"an authoritarian ruler may choose to liberalize the media in the hopes of modernizing the economy, but he does so at his peril" (Hoffman 803). Hoffman explains that governments can't give people a free news press, which spreads the universal belief of anti-tyranny and reports corruptive acts, yet continue to rule without giving the people the universal human right to choose leaders. The media and despots contradict each other, and as media technology advances it shows potential in dethroning authoritarian rulers faster and better than before.
Tunisia is prime example of the modern "Dictator's Dilemma." The authoritarian government enabled access to the internet and media on the brink of the 21 century "in the hopes of modernizing the economy." The country saw "Internet access in the country [expand] from near zero in 2000 to... one in five Tunisians actively [using] Facebook" (Hoffman 2131) within a decade. The media enables journalists and citizen bloggers to constantly record and report corrupt government actions that was once performed in clandestine. Eventually the social media, which gives citizens a voice, begins to demand for policy changes and the right to choose a leader. In Tunisia "Twitter and facebook and other social media sites became hotbeds of citizen journalism, allowing protesters to communicate with each other on the ground... while getting the story out to the rest of the world" (hoffman 2145). With the relative ease of receiving information and communicating, even plebs were capable of organizing and accelerating the spread of radical ideas effectively. Before long, the media set off nationwide protests, and the despot, "Ben Ali resigned and fled the country" (Hoffman 2152) on January 14, 2011. The news that an Arab dictator was overthrown "was electrifying." The story travelled throughout Northern Africa, and was responsible for sparking the historical events of Arab Spring. The news spread a few thousand miles away to Egypt, where a similar revolution was being fought. With the increased knowledge on how to overthrow dictators, cyber activists in Egypt dethroned their dictator promptly after Tunisia using Facebook and Twitter to organize events and protests. The new media allows for the modernization of the economy, but it also comes with modernization of social order, which is against tyranny.
Through it all, the new media gives people a lot of power to develop and accelerate their region towards the accepted universal social order. However, the new media does little to change the existing social order. Just before the Twitter and Facebook revolutions of Arab Springs, many political analysts had a heated debate on whether or not the media was capable of being transformative. On one side there were writers like David Hoffman, fervent advocates that the media is currently the world's strongest force for societal change, and on the other side, there are writers like Malcolm Gladwell, who believe that the social media cannot perform any revolutionary movements. In order to evaluate the argument, a definition must be set for the word transformative. Does transformative mean the ability to transform the status quo of a small area or the status quo of the world? Within the article "Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted," Malcolm Gladwell states, "The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo." Using the definition that transformative means the ability the change the status quo of an area, Hoffman is able to refute Gladwell's statement with a plethora of empirical examples. Both Tunisia's and Egypt's despots were overthrown by the people using revolutions organized by " instruments of social media." Moreover, in the book Citizens Rising, Hoffman states that
"Democracy is coming to the Middle East because of the communications revolution" (2224). By writing the "communications revolution," Hoffman is stating that by communicating with instruments of social media, the developing region of the Middle East is accelerating towards the existing social order of democracy. Social media is extremely transformative for the Middle East, but the same could not be said for universal ethics.
Transformative Nature of Social Media
Thus, under the standard that transformative is defined as changing the status quo of universal ethics, Malcolm actually brings up a pretty good point when claiming,
"The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo." Social media doesn't generate any revolutionary
"new" ideas into the world, it simply brings countries that are behind closer to the ethical and moral standards of the contemporary world. All the revolutions under the social media have precedent. Nearly none of the revolutions through social media are original. Gladwell defines the social media groups as a type of network -- an organization where every person has equal contribution and powers. Networks are extremely powerful at times, capable of handling huge tasks. Gladstone enforces this idea with an analogy of how networks work like offshore car manufacturing, which can mass produce cars. However, when it comes to designing the car,
"no one believes that the articulation of a coherent design philosophy is best handled by a sprawling, leaderless organization system" (Gladwell). The same idea can be applied to social media. Social media is a network that obeys the design of existing social order. It is tool for mass-modernizing developing regions. You can't articulate
" a coherent design philosophy" using the social media--
"a sprawling, leaderless organization system." Networks will just up creating Gladstone's
"echo chambers", where dissenting parties within the network can't and won't agree on controversial subjects. These disorganized cliques will generate tensions and unnecessary conflicts that'll bring no advancements in agreeing on
"a coherent design philosophy." In order to change the design of social order, you need an organized system with a leader, something that the media lacks in. Gladwell furthers his claim using the The Civil Rights movement-- a revolution that challenged the design of social ethics. Gladwell often calls The Civil Rights movement
"a military campaign." In a field under national and international condemnation, Gladwell observes that the movement was able advance strategically under a leader and ranks. During these unprecedented revolutions, people can't be assigning themselves tasks, they need a leader to assign them instead in order to create a more cohesive and strategic plan. Due to the lack of an hierarchy, no Twitter nor Facebook based revolution has been able to change the existing social order. All the massive
"transformations" performed through the media has had precedent. Democracy was established in the US, tyrannic leaders were overthrown in the US, Humanitarian aid based on the golden rule, etc. The media is capable of mass-instilling change, but those changes generally aren't original.
While the new media gives people the power to accelerate and modernize towards the existing social order and economy, when it comes to the controversial subject of deciding what the social order should be, the chaos of the disorganized sprawling network of the new media is extremely ineffective. The new interactive media releases the "many to many" method of distributing information, and allows for fast and sporadic transfers of information; however the climate of the media often become chaotic and disorganized and is thus unable to reach a consensus on contentious topics like changes towards the universal social order. In order to change the status quo of that, people are going to need to do a lot more than just tweeting.
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