Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

How 'Social' Are Social Media, Anyway?

How 'Social' Are Social Media, Anyway?

By Dennis D. McDonald

While many early adopters of "social media" recognized their evolving limitations years ago, it’s still useful to see that fact acknowledged in the mainstream online press.

Here's another article that mixes a few statistics with personal opinions, something that bloggers like me like to do from time to time: Michael K. Spencer’s Medium article 2018 is the End of Social Media as we Know It.

Spencer makes a lot of the generational shifts occurring in media usage. That makes sense given we're talking about "social" media that have greatly evolved beyond an initial focus on relationship development to include targeted advertising and propaganda.

Perhaps using the term "social" to describe interactive electronic media usage is a misnomer. The word “media,” after all, is the plural form of the singular “medium.” Discussions of social media frequently conflate different platforms like Instagram and Facebook with Linkedin and Twitter. All of these possess different mixes of features and different approaches to supporting interactions among large as well as small groups of people.

Early on I realized that a major feature of social media was the ability for an individual user to develop “relationships” with more people than could be interacted with in person or on a one to one basis. Over time. though, it became obvious to me that the relationships thus developed may have little in common with more interpersonal relationships.

Where this becomes especially murky is when concepts like “truth” and “trust” are introduced into the discussion. The old saying “A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes” is relevant here especially when one’s circle of online acquaintances and information sources extends beyond one’s personal set of individual and institutional trusted acquaintances.

I described my own solution to this problem in Can Exposing More of the Information Value Chain Help Control Fake News?:

Perhaps one way to address the proliferation of "fake news" is to make the process by which news reaches the consumer more open and transparent.

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The more info you give me to check out your story, the more likely I am to believe it. The harder you make it to check out the source of your story, the harder it will be for me to believe it.

Today were you to ask me what my favorite “social media” platform is, I would quickly say the soon-to-be-defunct (in 2019) Google+.

What I have liked most about Google+ is the ease with which it can be used to organize and interact with many different groups of people having highly diverse interests. I have also found that the willingness of people on Google+ to share information across a multitude of topic areas is exemplary.

Why then is it failing given that it overcomes the downsides of other platforms?

My assessment is that Google+ is “failing” because (a) it’s managed by Google and (b) it has never been monetized effectively.

Whatever the reason for Google+’s coming demise, the irony is that, despite my great enjoyment of Google+ I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people (out of the hundreds I’ve interacted with online) with whom I have actually met or talked.

Is Google+ a “social” platform? That’s a good question that suggests to me that there’s much more to “social media” than the “social” part.

Perhaps the term “social media” should be retired and terms more accurate introduced. After all, we’re not talking about “Web 2.0” anymore, are we?

Copyright (c) 2018 by Dennis D. McDonald

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