Is the social media tail wagging the dog?

social media shaping society





As good as social media is at providing  immediate and (generally) universally accessible communication channels for a significant segment of the 7 billion global population, is it already getting too good for its long term uncensored future?

Two things raise this question in my mind:

  • The decision by a Florida prosecutor to have a person arrested apparently only because of the clamour in social media.
  • A recent survey in the UK that found a correlation between twitter users moods and the tone of their tweets.

The first incident involved the tragic death of a teenager, shot by a neighborhood watch guard claiming self-defence. The police declined to arrest the shooter neither immediately after the incident, nor in the 6 weeks or so that it took for the level of demands for action to build up to a crescendo in social media.

The second was reported on in a Mashable article, I explored both in more detail on my social media blog on my Focused Prosperity website so I am not going to rehash it here. There is also a link to the Mashable article in that post.

I have three concerns:

Firstly it appears that a large section of public opinion can now be influenced more effectively and more quickly through social media than was possible using “old” media – print, radio and TV. – Good for effective marketers but bad for the governments.

Secondly, the urgency, intimacy and pervasiveness of social media seems ideally suited to getting people to react quickly to emotional issues without applying the same level of critical thinking and fact checking that they would have subjected similar issues to in off-line media. Again good for marketers with the right message, bad for those that don’t get it right.

Thirdly, while it can be argued that the two points above can be either beneficial or detrimental  to society, justice, stability or law and order, depending on which side of the fence we are on, this in itself elevates social media into a major threat to any government. We have seen the results of this in the “Arab Spring”.

I am totally against censorship, but where and when does a  democratically elected government draw a line in the sand and start attempting some degree of control. It is not as simple as having a quiet word with a newspaper publisher or TV network chief. Social media is fluid and fragmented, operating on many platforms and many levels. pressurize twitter (as has been attempted) and people will use another channel.

Attempts last year by several Western governments to introduce legislation to make it easier for the authorities to access individual citizens electronic communication were met with howls of protest, mine included.

But what if national security is genuinely at risk? I guess governments can invoke emergency powers to shut down servers and throttle the major social media channels.

Will we as individuals wake up in time and start using social media more responsibly, checking the facts before we start and spread emotional campaigns? What will it take to give us that wake up call? Life imprisonment of a probably innocent (in terms of the law) neighbourhood watch guard in Florida so that vested interests with hidden agendas and political aspirations can be appeased?

I do believe that the social media tail is starting to wag the public dog.

What do you think?

Wishing you success in all your endeavours.


Peter Wright




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