Social Media: Useless Chatter or a Revolutionary Force?

When I first created my Facebook and Twitter profiles, I spent little time considering the impact my presence (and the presence of so many others’) on these sites would have on the media ecosystem. After all, my primary objectives for joining the sites were to simply keep up-to-date on the latest high school happenings on Facebook and follow celebrity drama on Twitter. Can you blame me?

Since my first meek Facebook posts and ordinary Tweets, I’ve come to not only realize the magnitude of social media sites, but also the importance of their content. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have undoubtedly become much more than online portals to wish an old acquaintance a “Happy Birthday,” or Tweet about enjoying a great cup of tea—they’ve transformed our media landscape into a vast, engaged, global audience in which news and information are freely shared.

In The New York Times article “The Twitter Trap,” author, and former New York Times Executive Editor, Bill Keller questions just how much social media sites have benefitted society by asking the thought-provoking question, “What is really ‘social’ about social media?” Keller further presents his concern that social media sites are diminishing our basic skills, eroding our human characteristics and disallowing people to really interact in a meaningful way. While it is quite obvious to say people have become overly engrossed in their devices and thus have less in-person contact, can we really believe social media’s flaws outweigh its benefits?

The Nieman Reports article, “The Revolutionary Force of Facebook and Twitter,” by Jillian C. York provides some clarity to Keller’s questioning. York states social media now holds a vital place within our media ecosystem and often helps fill the voids of traditional media, thus overpowering any negative effects the sites may have on individual people and society as a whole.

News, as many have feared, is not diminishing in the wake of new technologies- it is simply taking on new forms. The journalistic landscape has been forever changed with the addition of social media; it has allowed for people to interact with news sources through new venues more than ever before.

Keller argues that much of the information shared on social media sites is inherently pointless and stupid (or at least makes the people posting look stupid). York, however, believes social media has promoted free expression, enhanced interaction and created a new era of journalistic practices.

Perhaps if more social media users became educated on the potential power of information on sites like Facebook and Twitter, Keller would be more satisfied with its content. Blogger Mindy McAdams offers readers social media advice with her post, “Getting Started with Twitter,” and urges new users to choose their followers wisely, utilize client apps and network/communicate with others. Other articles, including “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Tweets,” by Jay Adams and “Twitter Tips: How @Guardian Reached 1m Followers,” by Sarah Marshall both provide tips for new Twitter users. Adams’ advice to ensure Tweets are clear and concise, utilize keywords, shorten links and ask questions are all easy ways in which Twitter users can enhance and improve their interactivity and engagement via social media. Marshall describes The Guardian’s successful utilization of Twitter to garner discussion and conversation among its readers.

So whose opinion best matches today’s social media landscape best? Keller and York both introduce interesting concepts; yet, York more succinctly captures social media’s inherent positive nature. While the Internet is undeniably plagued with seemingly pointless posts, Tweets and videos, there is also so much more. Social media fosters discussion, promotes free expression and creates a new landscape for news media. York puts it best—social media really is a revolutionary force with countless benefits.