Is it really Social Media?

One day this week I sat in a coffee shop with a friend. Two men of a certain age, we discussed the phenomena of social media with wonder. Whether it be the urge to live tweet from professional events or putting one’s ‘life’ on Facebook, we marvelled at the instant turnaround of information and the power held by the writer.

In the old days journalism was a profession (though I have heard some argue that it is not a profession) that had the responsibility to bring the news to the general public. Over time the degree to which that news slanted with a particular view appeared to change. When I first came to this country I was astonished to find that what one read in Newspapers was not really objective truth but rather a socially mediated version of events.

Now, the role of many journalists has become redundant. Local newspapers reduce and perhaps close. Former greats like the London Evening Standard are now freebie handouts, paid for by advertising. How can they compete when events can be communicated from someone’s phone on to the internet in a matter of seconds?

Of course, we have a rite to know what is going on in the world. Who has the right to communicate this to us is somewhat less certain. My friend and I shared an amazement at phrases like ‘trending on twitter’ or ‘the internet is going wild for…’. What do such phrases mean? Just because something is popular does not mean it is worthwhile, or does it? As my fellow, ‘man of a certain age’ observed, there comes a time when an internet posting gets viewed simply because of the number of views, and/or likes. It already has. Just because lemmings jump off cliffs, surely that does not mean we should jump off cliffs as well.

So do we accept the reports of events we see on the internet, as the younger version of me once accepted what was written in Newspapers? I guess it brings us back to an issue of professionalism, of rites and of responsibilities. Some of the questions I am left with are:
Do we accept the material uploaded by a random person with a smartphone, as we once accepted the articles of professional journalists?
If journalists worked to a professional standard, what responsibility, or standard, can the smartphone journalist held to?
As random members of the public do we have the right to upload events to the internet and share them with the public?
I could go on, but what I would love to happen here is for a conversation to begin…

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Martin Coffey

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Career Management Skills Developer, Researcher Development Team.

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