The high priests of information are dead. RIP. Social media has destroyed the old media gatekeepers.
In a time not so long ago, the broadcast/cable networks decided what out of the countless events in the world should be shown to the public. What the journalists in traditional newsrooms did not report, in effect did not happen. It was a one-way, media-broadcasting message that pushed its way into living rooms.
And then, the Internet. It enabled the sharing of messages and events at the speed of light through a new realm of communication. It wasn’t just up to the networks and newspapers anymore; it placed the power into the hands of the everyday person. And finally, social media came to the forefront and broke the mold of communication, sports, events, and news. It was recently reported by Pew Research Center that 30% of adults get their news from their Facebook feeds. And now, over the last few weeks, anyone can be an “on the spot” news breaker.
The conflict in the Middle East and the Ukraine illustrates how anyone can become an influential media outlet and thereby “break news”. Twitter is the electronic nervous system of breaking news around the globe. Social media has shrunk the world and everything that happens is instantly broadcast and shared through feeds, tweets, and pictures. Instantly. Live. As it happens.
Marshall McLuhan prophetically dubbed electronic media as a “global village” decades before Twitter and other social networks became embedded in the social fabric. When the Arab Spring erupted in Egypt in 2010, it was dubbed the “Twitter Revolution”.
Now consider the shoot down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pointed not to intelligence data, but to a social media post as evidence that Ukraine’s Russian separatists shot down the civilian jetliner. The post on a Russian social network similar to Facebook was taken down when the jumbo jet’s wreckage revealed scores of civilian bodies.
In the minutes after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a surface to air missile, a leader of Ukraine’s Russian separatists boasted they had “downed” a military transport aircraft. He described in in social media as the, “bird fell for waste heap.” The deadly truth was that it was a civilian jetliner and suddenly the post disappeared.
However, you can’t taking it back once you click post on social media channels.
Weeks before the missile strike, both sides in Ukraine have used Twitter and other social media networks to wage a propaganda war. Communication systems including social media are amoral. They’re powerful. They’re also rapid, but not always factual. It used to be the role of traditional media to fact check for half-truths and deliberate lies. Today, they trail behind the “average person” and their social networks. The ubiquitous presence of smart phones means that an unfolding event will reach the world in a simple click of post or tweet.
I think we can all agree that recently we’ve all seen how social media is more than just social. It can be a stream of events or tragedies flowing directly to the world while we watch it unfold on our phones and tablets. It’s become more than a communication tool or sharing your life experiences with your “followers and friends”. It’s become an electronic extension of everyone’s nervous system, which involves us deeply in all other lives.