New media? Why social media is just like television

Dec 10, 2012 by Dr Andy Ruddock

Over the last seven days, social media journalists did an admirable job of documenting what may go down as a historic week in media. Covering the conflict between Instagram and Twitter, Matt Buchanan adroitly observed the former's decision to make it harder for users to share their pictures on the latter dramatised the essential untruth of social media.

Instagram, , and Facebook all claim they want to get the world sharing, but their prove that they don't. In fact, Instagram and Twitter users had discovered that these operations don't want to share sharing. They want to keep attention, and the revenue it attracts, in the same place.

Buchanan thinks that as users switch between platforms, so online identities become fragmented, unsatisfying things. How can we use to come together with others when we can't even use them to come together with ourselves?

Meanwhile, things were no rosier over on Facebook. The Age's Alexei Oreskovic noted how The Social Network was stripping users of the right to vote on governance issues, while enhancing its power to build detailed user profiles through its integration with Instagram. In other words, the sharing experience was working rather better for social media businesses than it was for its users. Moreover, Facebook was becoming less and less coy about its status as a publicly traded company. No more neat little dorm project gone large

Strangely, Facebookers don't seem bothered. James Manning, writing in the The Age, gloomily explained why the vote was a sham, as Facebook was seeking to extinguish a right that didn't practically exist. According to company rules, referenda only count when at least 30 per cent of all users exercise their right. To date, no Facebook poll has ever come close.

Friday brought yet more news that explained why users are offering so little resistance to a potentially mind-boggling into our privacy. An ACMA report found a massive increase in Australian Internet downloads from the previous year. This was driven by users who spent 82 hours a month online. For the most part, this time involved doing things that people did long before the Internet: paying bills, watching the TV and listening to the radio. Perhaps people aren't as concerned about creeping online governance as they might be because that governance has already crept pretty far.

The ACMA report suggests we might find explanations for public apathy toward online privacy by looking to media history. So let's think a little more about television.

In the1960s, a Hungarian war-hero, Nazi hunter turned media scholar called George Gerbner invented Cultivation Analysis. Based on painstaking analysis of television content, and extensive surveys of viewers, Gerbner and his colleagues concluded that television's main effect was to win audiences' consent for a major shift in cultural life; the outsourcing of storytelling to business interests.

Societies had always told tales, but with television,there was but one motivation for them; keeping audience attention, for profit. To do this,television traded in standardised stories that reinforced pretty vicious prejudices. On TV violence, for example, Gerbner noted that middle class men were the least likely to be the victims in television dramas, and for heavy viewers this reinforced the perception that it's a man's world.

The idea that television has a politically pacifying effect, overall, has continued in recent studies. One of the things that contemporary cultivation analysts have discovered is that the more time people spend with corporate media, the less bothered they are by the monopolisation of public attention, and all of the social effects that might bring. For people who watch a lot of television, that's just how things are.

So if, in Australia, they're now watching online, perhaps the fatalistic sensibilities that affect television audiences have transferred over to social media.

This possibility certainly set alarm bells ringing last week. Scoffing at the Leveson Inquiry, John Pilger reckoned the hacking scandal as small beer in comparison to new, far reaching state powers to reach into the lives of ordinary citizens; this thanks to previously unimaginable data gathering and aggregating functions facilitated by social media.

Although Pilger's concerns are directed at the state, it may well be social media businesses, with all their rhetoric of sharing and fun, that are the key drivers in winning public consent for such unprecedented surveillance.

Media scholars have written on how television and social media have collaborated to make personal disclosure fun, and common sense. Social media, like television before, are working hard to convince the public that commercial imperatives and public culture should work in tandem. Perhaps, then, last week was just another rerun.

Explore further: Twitter rules out Turkey office amid tax row

More information: www.theage.com.au/technology/technology-news/internet-use-rockets-as-australians-dependence-grows-20121206-2ax3g.html

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

App clash: Instagram shuts off Twitter feature

Dec 05, 2012

The smartphone app Instagram turned off a feature Wednesday that allowed easier photo viewing for Twitter users, in a move that pushes the two popular tech platforms farther apart.

Social networking top online activity in US

Sep 13, 2011

US Internet users are spending nearly a quarter of their online time at blogs and social networks, with Facebook the most popular destination, according to a survey released Monday by Nielsen.

Recommended for you

Net neutrality balancing act

4 hours ago

Researchers in Italy, writing in the International Journal of Technology, Policy and Management have demonstrated that net neutrality benefits content creator and consumers without compromising provider innovation nor pr ...

Twitter rules out Turkey office amid tax row

Apr 16, 2014

Social networking company Twitter on Wednesday rejected demands from the Turkish government to open an office there, following accusations of tax evasion and a two-week ban on the service.

How does false information spread online?

Apr 16, 2014

Last summer the World Economic Forum (WEF) invited its 1,500 council members to identify top trends facing the world, including what should be done about them. The WEF consists of 80 councils covering a wide range of issues including social media. Members come ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...

Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

A service is soon to launch in the UK that will enable us to transfer money to other people using just their name and mobile number. Paym is being hailed as a revolution in banking because you can pay peopl ...