Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What is Social Media Used For?

Social media, as it allows and encourages public participation, has become the prominent source for information. The rise of citizen journalists and the instancy of online communication enable social media generate a lot of first-hand information. The more popular social media platforms become, the more powerful they can be to influence the orthodox media. Nowadays it is already not unusual for newspapers or television programs to get news feed from the internet.

However, I cannot help but wonder, how accurate can social media be as an information provider.  News agencies are acting like watchdogs for the public. They not only tell people what they want to know but also what they need to know. In my point of view, social media is weak in terms of serving the public what they need to know. 

First of all, Audiences are passively receiving information when they are reading newspapers or watching TV and thus unable to avoid pieces of news in which they are not interested. In contrast, social media empowers people with greater freedom in controlling the flow of information. People use the internet as a media to actively search for more knowledge for whatever they want to know. In other words, people will stay informed less comprehensively on social media as they have more control over the types of information they get.   

Because of the great autonomy guaranteed by social media, it gathers people with the same or similar interests. Groups of people with different focuses narrow their attention to a few specific topics and then have many heated discussions online. It further motivates people to seek more knowledge in their favorite field, at the same time, social media fails to provide incentives for people to broaden their vision in other areas. As our speaker Zach Green mentioned in his speak, social media platforms are not the right places to change people's mind. On the contrary, it is mainly used for allying with like-minded people to stay more firmly to their beliefs.  

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Finally, we gets to the core question for social media: what is social media used for? To me, it seems that social media is more an entertainment/networking tool rather than a news feed. People tend to either get themselves entertained or entertain others through feedback they make or receive. Zach Green pointed out that comments online are more about complaints, sarcasm and jokes. These eye-catching conversation are usually more possible to become popular online. Social Media is about to pick up side talk. Just like the first presidential debate on Twitter, people picked up the joke about "Big Bird" made by Mitt Romney and ignore other serious points the two presidential candidates made. Like Obama's health care reform and Mitt Romney's energy/environmental strategies. 

Moreover, social media is also important to keep people connected with their friends. NM Incite, a Nielsen McKinsey company surveyed 1,865 adult (18+) social media users about their motivations to friend someone on Facebook. 82% of interviewees reported that they friend people who they have already known in real life. Another section of the survey also shows people's various purpose for using social media. 

All in all, social media may not be an ideal place for people to acquire a basic understanding towards popular issues. It's not always accurate and objective. However, it's common and easy for people to exchange their opinions after they gain some relevant knowledge. 

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