it’s called ‘social’ for a reason – stop criticizing and start participating

it’s official ladies and gentlemen, people still have absolutely no idea what socially driven news means. a study from the project for excellence in journalism finds that news promoted on socially driven sites like digg, reddit, and is significantly different from the news reported in mainstream media and that the many of the stories selected by the users often don’t appear in mainstream media at all. furthermore, the sources used by these sites are much different (70 percent of them were blogs or other sites) from the sources that more established outlets use for their content.

to some of the claims in the study i can’t help but say ‘no shit sherlock’ while others are simply misguided.

before we look at the media’s misguided reaction to the study, let’s take a look at some of the most regularly featured sites on digg (from march 14, 2007 – april 14, 2007, latest data available):

  1. nytimes – featured 44 times – ranked 3rd
  2. yahoo news – featured 32 times – ranked 6th
  3. cnn – featured 32 times – ranked 7th
  4. washington post – featured 30 times – ranked 8th
  5. bbc news – featured 27 times – ranked 9th

i would hardly make the case that news from mainstream media isn’t represented on social media sites. regardless, the study has prompted nick gonzales to wonder, does social media make you dumb? at the same time, nick carr refers to the social media audience as the people formerly known as informed, and matt ingram is one of the few people to have a levelheaded response to the study.

carr writes,

when you replace professional editors with a crowd or a social network, you actually end up accelerating the dumbing-down of news. news becomes a stream of junk-food-like morsels. the people formerly known as the audience may turn out to be the people formerly known as informed.

what he fails to understand is that social media is driven by the people and the news that is submitted and promoted is what the people are actually reading and what actually matters to the people. just because the new york times prints something, doesn’t mean that the people are reading it or that they care about it. all it means is that the publishers think that’s what should matter to you. that said, if people (like nick and other haters) think that their view, or what they think is important, isn’t being represented in social media, rather than jumping to half-cooked conclusions, these same people should register on the sites and have their say.

all socially driven communities rely on the law of large numbers and are only as good as the communities that powers them. as these communities grow, they start to more accurately represent the community at large, and the content promoted on these sites changes to reflect that. social media is just a platform and the results are exactly what people want them to be. it’s not social media that’s dumbing the people down, rather it’s a reflection of people’s true interests (no matter how shallow they might be).

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17 thoughts on “it’s called ‘social’ for a reason – stop criticizing and start participating

  1. John Wesley

    It’s funny, the inclusion of blogs and other credibility lacking sources is one the reasons they demean social media, but it’s the primary reason I use it.

    Social media isn’t making people dumber, it’s showing us how dumb people actually are.

  2. ob81

    For me, using sites like digg have enhanced my experience with news, and has helped me receive more of it if anything. Yeah sometimes some crazy stuff is featured, but thats part of the experience as well. It depends on the user really. Some people live and die by what newspapers say.

  3. irkenzim

    I’m fairly new to Digg and social news, but I have to say that I now know a lot more about what’s going on in the world. Especially in news topics that I would not have gone looking for – because friends have dugg them and so I got to hear about them that way.

  4. Daniel Gray

    Remember when you parents got on your case for hanging out with the “wrong” kids? Maybe they were onto something. Just maybe.

    Social media can only make you dumb if you hang out with a dumb crowd. A lemming is a lemming.

    Hang out with a smart crowd and gain from the collective wisdom.

    It’s up to the individual to build their own smart crowd.

  5. Michael Dorausch

    We’re seeing interesting patterns emerge. Look at those top five sites regularly being featured. Recent trends are showing more sources emerging from social media and cycling into major media.

    The July wikiscanner story is a good example, as it started online, and then hit the New York Times homepage. Same pattern was seen this week with news outlets covering “crazy Britney fan” after it went popular in social media groups.

  6. Manny a.k.a. Steaprok

    Well the sad thing is people like Carr pompously assume, they know what’s best for everyone, or that NYT, or any of the major news outlets somehow know what we ant better than we do. But they fail to realize that the major news outlets are made up of people, and it exactly those people that he is calling “formally known as informed” His argument is riddled with holes, not to mention just plain spiteful and stupid.

  7. Ethan Michael

    For people to blanket cover mainstream media as “credible and professional” is as equally ignorant to blanket blogs as the opposite. There are good and bad reports coming from both camps… Mainstream media is incredibly biased, and anyone who says Fox News doesn’t have a conservative slant has been watching on mute with their eyes closed. I’ve been part of a few news stories ranging from my local paper to national magazines and papers… every single story I’ve been close enough to know the details I’ve seen glaring errors and misguided “facts.” A biased blogger is trying to increase his feed readership by a few hundred or land an extra $20 in adsense income this month… the biased mainstream media outlets are trying to increase their billion dollar bankrolls… either way you look at it, “News is dead” but I trust the guy trying to make an extra $20 over the billion dollar clubs.

  8. GnomeyNewt

    Thank you for this post. This is what I’ve been saying but without those cool stats thrown in. Social networks are awesome because for the most part it is what people are actually reading/interested, not just a group of Big wigs printing/broadcasting what they “think” people want.

    To quote ethan micheal, ““News is dead” but I trust the guy trying to make an extra $20 over the billion dollar clubs.” and that pretty much sums it up for me.

  9. Matt Jones

    I couldn’t agree with you more. You see the odd Iraq story and lots of iPhone stories, because that how diggers actually divide things up. It’s realistic that Techlovers spend more time thinking about iPhones and video games than Iraq, it’s just obvious.

    “it means is that the publishers think that’s what should matter to you”. Exactly.

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  11. Rubab

    People do have reasons and justifications for their acts and cognitive resonance compel them to do justify their acts. well Its not always what we see the people as dumber and social media role in making them dumb, but its about what type of interests and aptitudes people would pick from the flood of information regardless of less reliable sources

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