Is Social Media Communication?
Facebook. Twitter. Tumblr. Message Boards. etc. We have no shortage of social media venues available today, and millions of people use them – sometimes for hours at a time – each day. But what is going on in the world of social media? Is it communication, or something else?
I am thinking about social media and its growing role in society because of Hillary Clinton’s visit to Silicon Valley. In addition to fundraisers (just in case she does what everyone expects and runs for president), she spoke to employees at Twitter, Facebook and Google. Secretary Clinton shared a profound insight: “We have a lot of people communicating, but they’re not listening and they’re not looking for common ground that they could occupy together,” she said. “It is a fact of social media right now that too often people use it as a weapon instead of an opportunity.”
I think that Ms. Clinton is spot-on that few people on social media are listening. The vast majority are only talking. Few people are looking for a give-and-take that results in ideas being shared. Instead, the vast majority are trying to bludgeon others into accepting their ideas. I’m not sure that what goes on in most of social media is really communication. When there is what looks like a conversation, Ms. Clinton said that it was usually arguing and bickering over differences. I think that she is right, and I join her in hoping people will someday use social media for “real conversation” and “reconciliation” rather than that bickering.
The problem is that the Internet has made it so easy for everyone to speak to the entire world without making it easy for each of us to listen voice that is speaking. How do we discover the compelling ideas on each sides of an issue about which we care? How do we discriminate between the expert on a subject and an opinionated blow-hard?
What we need is a curated flow of ideas.
What we need even more is to be willing to listen to those ideas when we find them.