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June 22, 2009
Doesn’t Mean Social Media Has Inherent Value
The world remains riveted on events unfolding in Iran, and remains
riveted in ways that 10 years ago no one could have imagined. The
iron-fisted clampdown on traditional media outlets has the world
watching through the prism of social media.
CNN’s coverage Saturday was wall-to-wall Twitter posts. The network,
which appears to have nearly given up on actual reporting these days,
spent the day sharing the latest posts coming from Iran, being careful
to acknowledge that the journalists had no way of knowing whether what
they were reporting was really true. In fact, it seemed, that was part
of the fun.
Well, let’s rephrase that last sentence a bit. Part of the story of the
Iranian protests is how that story is being told. No doubt this
development itself is being eagerly followed by its own subset of people
– that dark and shadowy subculture of social media experts.
few years ago, social media was something mostly for college kids and
Internet nerds. Since then, regular people have figured out that it’s
kind of fun to waste a few minutes each day taking online quizzes about
how to survive a zombie holocaust or what character from Star Trek best
describes them, and sharing the results with friends, family and people
they barely know.
turn, social media sites have figured out that if they let just any old
regular person sign up, traffic to their sites grows. Today, according
to social media use statistics (which, considering how people use the
Internet, should be taken with a grain of salt large enough to give
severe hypertension to the entire populace of Milwaukee), Facebook is
growing fastest among people 30 years old and older.
That growth provided an opportunity to self-appointed experts to make
money telling people what social media is, how to behave on the Internet
and – most importantly – how to advance careers and build businesses
through things like Facebook. Today, they are no doubt hungrily looking
to the story of the Iranian protests about how they can make it work for
doubt that there is some utility to knowing what street-level rumors
from Tehran have to tell us. Many of them, repeated throughout the day,
turned out to have basis in fact. In terms of watching a piece of
history unfold, it is extremely interesting.
What we have seen these last few days may be the seeds of a new
political revolution. Who knows? What it wasn’t was a revolution in how
people communicate. It was a further demonstration of humans as an
advanced species. People communicated through Twitter for the same
reasons they sometimes cut meat with the side of a fork – because the
better tool for the job is not available. Once cell phone service is
turned back on, the people of Iran will go back to talking and using
text messages. Everyone else will go back to uploading photos of their
kids to Facebook and using Twitter to issue 140-character descriptions
of lunch and complaints about the local sports team.
are also likely to get those same self-appointed experts on social media
nodding sagely on the Tee Vee about what it means for the future of
human communication. It’s the same line that’s been spun since the first
day anyone realized that there was money to be made expressing it, and
is kith and kin to the endless advice on how to behave and also how to
increase your earning potential through building social media networks.
What none of these people will do is offer anything even remotely useful
to people new to social media, like what weapons are best for surviving
a zombie holocaust or how to rig quizzes so that they can be associated
with celebrities they like. That, unfortunately, is the kind of
information that the vast majority of social media users are really ever
going to find most useful.
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
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