Social media: you know you want to

What should we think about social media?

It seems there isn’t a conversation or discussion on journalism nowadays that ignores the presence of social media – rather, its rise and its dangers are being applied in all circumstances, not insignificant of which is politics, shown in Nic Newman’s text ‘#UKelection10, mainstream media and the role of the internet’. The paper analyses social media’s involvement in the 2010 UK elections down to each party, as well as their techniques, successes and shortcomings. With Barack Obama’s recent re-election as US president, the paper’s core conclusions are proving relevant again, and from my experience using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr during the US campaigns, Newman’s statement that “social and digital media increased political engagement .. particularly amongst the 18–24 group” is increasingly accurate, even with an election not taking place in young adults’ home country.

Newman’s 2009 text ‘The rise of social media and its impact on mainstream journalism’ describes how I perceive and engage with social media: “Social media, blogs and UGC are not replacing journalism, but they are creating an important extra layer of information and diverse opinion. Most people are still happy to rely on mainstream news organisations to sort fact from fiction and serve up a filtered view, but they are increasingly engaged by this information, particularly when recommended by friends or another trusted source.” As an active user of Tumblr and Twitter, I am reliant on those I follow to amplify news or feed me with perspectives to consider – for facts about the US election I still turned to mainstream news outlets, but to realise my alliance with certain candidates I took into account the personal testimonies of people on social networks. Newman’s paper explains a changing journalistic practice and predicts that over time, “social media sites could become as important as search engines as a driver of traffic and revenue” (it can even be argued that that time is now).

The ever-growing social network Twitter creates controversy with its unfiltered, cut-to-the-chase content, and as Newman recalls with the Telegraph’s live Twitter feed experiment – it can sometimes go south. Newman similarly talks about the importance of brand separation (using CNN and iReport as an example), the aim to protect journalistic organisations’ “reputation for trust and accuracy.” Alfred Hermida addresses the marriage of Twitter and journalism in his text ‘Twittering the news’, arguing that Twitter is an awareness system shifting journalistic norms, and that “microblogging systems that enable millions of people to communicate instantly, share and discuss events are an expression of collective intelligence”.

Despite all the resistance (Hermida: “New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd (2009) described [Twitter] as ‘’a toy for bored celebrities and high-school girls’'”) and danger that “social media technologies like Twitter are part of a range of Internet technologies enabling the disintermediation of news and undermining the gatekeeping function of journalists,” former journalist and now academic Charlie Beckett sums it up: “we’ve emerged out of that rather boring zero sum game and realised that it is inevitable and it is not a choice.” In Newman’s 2009 social media text, BBC Business Editor Robert Peston claimed he wouldn’t be moving on to Twitter any time soon, and yet now in 2012 his account @Peston has almost 200,000 followers.

I say it’s time to trust new media, and interlace journalistic practice with audience contribution not with a cloud of worry for our profession but with excitement over such a rich “supplementary dimension”.

Don’t worry guys, social media is FUN.