Thursday, August 01, 2013

Sceptics & social media: 5 stages of grief

I’ve long been an observer of the way newspaper, radio and TV journalists have dealt with social media. Many simply snipe away. We’ve heard the weary tones of TV pundits who have been forced by their Producers to refer to their web page or Twitter accounts at the end of the programme. Others can’t wait to find a story that confirms their deep prejudice against any form of mass communication that doesn’t involve them. This week, the press have discovered the word ‘troll’ and there’s no end of attacks on Twitter from people who probably had to look up the word on Wikipedia.
TV, radio and newspapers have been full of this over reaction this week. To take just one example, the normally rational Simon Jenkins, in the Guardian, describes Twitter as “a harmless pastime for show-offs and voyeurs…the crack cocaine for the commentariat”. NO matter that journalists regularly use Twitter to get more reach for their work. No matter that many Guardian columnists now read like second rate bloggers. No matter that the newspaper industry is only just recovering from phone hacking practices that make the occasional troll seem like a choir boy. Journalists are keen to punish trolls but less keen to punish their own.
What is missing here is good ‘journalism’. Few discuss the detail around the protections that existing laws provide, whether it be harassment, confidentiality or libel. Few actually know anything about the procedures which Twitter and Facebook have in place to deal with extreme transgressions. Few bother to even find out.
Five stages of grief
It struck me that there’s some merit in applying Kubler-Ross’s ‘five stages of grief’ to their behaviour in facing up to the realities of contemporary mass communication and journalism.
Denial: Work of the devil. I’ll have nothing to do with it. Most journalists completely ignored the presence of social media, even when millions were using it and it was feeding images and reports into mainstream media.
Anger: Snipe and sneer whenever it’s mentioned. Suddenly, they were no longer silent but openly resentful and hostile on TV, radio and in print, with the usual ill-informed remarks about media they had never used and barely understood.
Depression: Why don’t they want me any more? Panic then sets in as they realise that newspaper circulation is heading towards disaster. They are in danger of missing out on a means of communication they need to both ‘pull from’ and ‘push to’, as a valuable source for stories but also dissemination of their work.
Bargaining: Maybe I’ll give it a try…  Then it literally clicks. This stuff is here to stay. They take a couple of baby steps and find out that it’s easy to use but do so irregularly and clumsily, with more than a tinge of residual scepticism.
Acceptance: Know how many ‘followers’ I have? Suddenly, they realise it enhances their reach, reputation and personal brand, and jump gleefully on to the bandwagon. Then you can’t stop them.
Flip media
But something else has happened, a sixth phase, which I’d call the ‘flip’. This is when traditional media relies so much on social media as a source – Tweets, Youtube, mobile cameras etc .that it resorts to simply telling people what they already know.
I liken this to two tectonic plates colliding. As the new online media plate crashes into the old offline media plate, the old plate starts to be pushed down and as it is submerged, it sends out lots of tremors, earthquakes, even volcanic explosions. Arguments erupt, as the old world tries to deal with the new reality. Calls are made for more censorship, arrests, jail sentences – even torture (Manning) prosecution and persecution (Assange). It’s the wretched acts of a defeated army in retreat.

There is something inevitable about all this. Technology is always ahead of the sociology. What matters is that the early adopters and people with some foresight ignore the naysayers and get on with their blogging, contributions to Wikipedia, YouTube uploads, Facebook posting, Tweets, whatever, and ignore the sceptics.


Unknown said...

I agree that social media as an important source of news is inevitable. I wonder what the impact might be on the quality of that news and the influence it has. Will we bore more vulnerable to ill-informed witch-hunts or believing the snappy-sounding quote or sound-bite? Will we be able to find (and even have the inclination to find) both sides of the argument. Will we follow the link from the tweet to the deeper discussion of the new item or topic of interest? It will be interesting to see how this all works out. I simply hope that the medium still allows a quality signal to be found amongst the noise. We've already seen some of the painful side-effects of our 24-hour news culture in traditional media - how much worse might this get when other media/channels are added. I want to be an optimist but there is often much to make me pessimistic.

Donald Clark said...

My own view is that ALL media are prone to these faults, especially mainstream media. I see social media as bringing essential balance to the landscape, to avoid the bias inherent in mainstream media.

shackletonjones said...

I enjoyed your analysis, which I think rings true. It's also a good perspective on learning, which is in a similar stste ('wikipedia can't be trusted', etc.). My only worry is that social media tends towards a reflective bubble - telling you the things you want to hear (though people choose tabloids for similar reasons, no doubt.) Translated to learning what does this mean? That we get just the learning we need, just in time? What of serendipity?

Donald Clark said...

Nice point about Wikipedia. I've just got funding for a Wikipedia project and it's amde me think about that point a lot. On the 'bubble' issue, I agree. In fact the research shows that social media has a strong skew towards extroverts. Neverthless, I like to have a real mix of people on Faceboook and Twitter - gun nuts, religious types, traditionalists etc. - makes for better debates when I blog. I agree, however, that many people have 'mirror' friends. Nice points as always Nick. PS Just tried developer version of Oculus Rift - assume you guys are using it....