Meme: Social Media

There’s a meme going around where someone gives you 7 topics to write about. I’ve been neglecting the ones Jess gave me a while back, so I suppose I should actually write something on them.

“Social media” is a vague term. I guess it generally refers to the collection of websites where users make the content and provide information (Twitter, Facebook status updates, forums, reddit, etc), so that’s how I’ll deal with it here.

Social media is one of those things that bothers me more than it should. Most people reading this are probably aware that I deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts last September after being disturbed by the things I was reading about Facebook online.
And that’s probably the first thing that bothers me about it: it concentrates information in the hands of a few big companies, and you are at their mercy as to what happens with that information. There’s a reason I maintain my own journal, hosted on a website by a webhost I pay. There’s a reason I dump my photos to my own website. I am uncomfortable with the idea that some corporate entity somehow holds this information and that it could disappear at any time. (Yes, I have backups. Yes, I know anything public on the internet can be mined and extracted and archived anyway. But it still feels different.)

After deleting my accounts, it occurred to me that my interactions with people, while being less frequent, were more meaningful. It’s not interesting to read 140-character updates from someone 50 times a day, or to read status updates about mundane things. And it seems more and more that these superficial means of interaction are replacing long-form writing (journal posts, letters, meaningful email conversations).

Maybe I’m just a curmudgeonly old guy, but I really miss back when people wrote long, meaningful entries in personal blogs (or used LJ or even Xanga). I don’t really need to know when a particular person is eating or where they are eating or what they’re eating. But a well-written post afterward about the restaurant, the food, the service… that’s something interesting.

So I guess, as a whole, social media is making it easier to share *everything*, and I’m not convinced that’s a good thing.

Still, there’s something I do miss from when I participated in these websites, but they’re more a result of people moving toward them than the sites themselves: It is now nearly impossible for me to reach certain people. Emails seem to be rarely read nowadays, resulting in responses a month or so after the email, rather than near-instantaneous with things like Facebook. IM is used far less often (or not at all by many people). Phone conversations also seem to be dying out (and texting isn’t always a feasible alternative). As a direct result, planning events (or getting invited to events) has become far more difficult; it’s now nearly impossible for me to try and meet up with some people when I fly back to California or Arizona, because I simply can’t get in touch with them in a timely manner.

I suppose there’s also a weird effect on news reporting that I’ve been noticing more since I’ve been with The Tartan (a topic for another update). People not only can’t tell the difference between news and opinion anymore, they also can’t seem to recognize bias (or, really, even care about bias) in articles.
In my opinion, this is a result of the way information is shared nowadays (which relates back to social media)… when it is so easy for people to share information, people will share everything, resulting in a huge amount of information to wade through to get anything relevant out. When information is shared in tiny snippets instead of longer, meaningful articles, people get less information out of them. When articles are read through social sharing rather than by sitting down and getting the news from a reputable site (or a collection of known RSS feeds), it leads to a tendency to treat everything as fact (or, at least, equate articles written by the New York Times with articles posted to Queerty).
Additionally, when news propogates down a social graph, each node introduces its own level of bias. Imagine discovering an article on the NYT on your own, versus being linked to it with a note “OMG can you believe they’re doing this?!” Imagine seeing multiple comments below the shared link in agreement. You’re biased against the article even before you have seen it, and resharing only serves to exacerbate this effect. (There’s an excellent example of this in a Tartan article a couple weeks back where it was primarily shared on Facebook, resulting in an overblown and wholly underdeserved backlash as the article was interpreted as an officially-sanctioned attack rather than a general opinion piece. But I have already ranted about that separately.)
So social media helps spread more news faster, but it likewise leads to lots of misinformation.

I suppose this is turning into a bit of a rant, so I will leave off here.