I’m in Los Angeles this week for a web conference. Naturally, when you stick a bunch of IT and web specialists together, the topic of social media surfaces. So far I have attended two sessions on social media and mobile. Tomorrow holds a third.
With all this discussion on social media, I am seriously tempted to bust out this video tomorrow morning at breakfast. It’s an advert for The Guardian, and I still don’t know how I feel about it.
What is happening here? Clearly The Guardian is commenting on the instantaneous and ubiquitous nature of social media. The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, explains that the advert is part of a re-branding initiative. The Guardian believes in open journalism, and “Big Bad Wolf” is meant to promote that philosophy.
While I understand the significant value of open journalism, this advert still makes me uneasy, for it speaks to the often unrecognized (or overlooked) power of social media.
Watch the video again. See how quickly the public’s opinion jumps from empathy and justification, to anger, to suspicion, back to empathy, and finally to rage – not against the murderous pigs, mind, but the economic structures that “caused” the pigs to murder in the first place. All these shifts in public opinion were encouraged and fueled by uploaded video from smartphones, tweets, and personal commentary on social networks.
Social media is a useful tool – one that integrates voices into the news that would have never been publicly and widely shared otherwise. As with any tool, however, comes responsibility. A healthy dose of skepticism is important when utilizing social media. Is there a point when too many voices actually hinders objective journalism? A point when it complicates court proceedings and crime investigations? Does “open news” invite too many perspectives to the table, thus creating a noisy squabble of citizen and do-it-yourself broadcasters? Or does it add to, as The Guardian puts it, “the whole picture”? If a news organization tried to streamline and reduce the noise of social media, would that be considered censorship?
This advert presents me with a list of questions which, in turn, produces even more questions. These sort of queries will only continue as the honeymoon phase of social media ends, and the legal cases begin. I’m very interested in your thoughts. How do you interpret this new advert from The Guardian? What is your opinion of the role that social media plays in journalism?