2012
09.29

Academic essay discussing introductory ideas about social media and Web 2.0, 2010.

Over the last number of years, the Internet has been implemented as a significant part of today’s society. In 2009, over 70% – 18.31 million – of households in the United Kingdom had access to the World Wide Web. The communicative, collaborative possibilities of such an interconnected world are highlighted through the growth of social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. These sites have integrated themselves as part of many people’s everyday lives, and this essay aims to examine and analyse their significance in today’s world of converged media.

Blogs are commonplace in Internet studies today. In 2006 there were 57 million active bloggers (Flew, 2008: 96), with subject matter ranging from mainstream news, through comedic satire, to those created by children. Essentially newspaper columns for the 21st Century, blogs are different in the way that any consumer can step out from the audience and become a publisher, and also often provide opinion and analysis as well as news facts in their ‘random acts of journalism’ (Bruns, 2007: 15, 20). This effectively makes everyone in society with a blog a journalist in citizen journalism, ‘[diminishing] people’s needs to be spoken for by others’ (Hesmondhalgh, 2007: 284). Witnesses of newsworthy events now often have breaking news and images uploaded before the corporations can even assemble themselves in position to bring news to the public in the ‘old-fashioned’ way. Blogs are even being seen as progressions from traditional web pages, which tend to be slower moving and often static (Benkler, 2006: 217) – an idea relating to Web 2.0, a term coined to define newly-established communicative uses. Hesmondhalgh (2007: 284) poses the question of whether or not the ‘celebration’ of ‘participatory journalism’ in the blogosphere – the global ‘ecosystem’ (Bell, 2008: 271) of blogs – underestimates the importance and integrity of professional journalism but, regardless of the answer, the fact that this question should arise surely highlights that social journalism must be taken into consideration in analysis of media trends.

Generally, online activity has set a precedent as a new means of modern communication, placing itself alongside e-mail messaging and SMS texting. Despite the view of Goldsmith and Wu, that there exist ‘tensions between State power and… the Internet’ (2008: vii), social networking is pulling the ideals of the last Century into the modern spectrum. Newspapers including The Sun have utilised these technological evolutions to create new, up-to-the-minute platforms for news deliverance, their Twitter account being used for instantly-broadcast news feeds, effectively disrupting time-space and reliance on print. Similarly, the 2008 San Diego wildfires were reported and safety precautions broadcast from a local news station via Twitter (Ling, Donner, 2009: 98). Perhaps most notably, news of a 2009 incident, when a plane and helicopter collided in mid-air above the Hudson River, New Jersey, was first brought to public attention by an update from user Janis Krums, who was on-scene at the time and uploaded a photo and description of what had happened (via his iPhone) only ten minutes after the plane had taken off. His update appeared at 3:36pm, while The New York Times’ first announcement was not until 3:48pm and not on their front page until 4:00pm (Deards, 2009). In light of this, it can be seen that in the right place at the right time, interpersonal technology can undermine renowned institutions in terms of delivering breaking news, making it potentially equal to the broadcast methods which we have known and used for a long time, ‘relevant for its ubiquitous and permanent connectivity’ (Castells et al, 2007: 248). Meikle (2009: 183) offers the term ‘New Old Media’ to describe ‘uses of the convergent media environment which update or extend the textual forms and business models of the twentieth century… the same old media but with a digital spin… the move from the New York Times on paper to the New York Times online.’ Additionally, Hesmondhalgh calls it ‘news organisations’ [appropriation of] the terms for their own outputs’ and states that ‘such developments are part of the increasing imperative for news organisations to be seen as being responsive to technological developments and as able to give a sense of immediacy’ (2007: 284). Such definitions highlight that scholars and academics are observing the technological advancements and changes in social structures brought on by such social networking sites, this fact in itself proving their significance in society and media studies.

The YouTube site is highly significant in the study of social networking. A hub of participatory culture, it caters to audiences and users as diverse as large media producers to amateurs and teenagers recording video blogs in their suburban homes (Burgess, Green, 2009: vii). There are several examples of its potential and the possibilities it presents, one being the launch to stardom of Internet celebrity Chris Crocker, whose video of himself expressing his outrage at the media’s treatment of Britney Spears made him something of an online cult icon and, subsequently, a mainstream television star. The same can be said for Scottish actor Brian Limond whose comical YouTube ‘v-logs’ resulted in his ideas being adopted for the BBC television series Limmy’s Show. More cynical views of its capabilities are documented by Keen, who describes its exploitation as ‘a democratized Shopping Network that does not distinguish between independent content and advertising… a media without gatekeepers’ (2008: 92), referring to the harmful possibility of company representatives – under aliases – ‘reviewing’ their own products. He also notes its distasteful use in political campaigns to trash opponents, such as North Carolinian Republican candidate Vernon Robinson who was the star of a video verbally attacking opponent Brad Miller – his defence being that it was a private recording that ‘someone put… on YouTube’ (2008: 66). A similar case is that of American student Dino Ignacio’s creation of images depicting the character Bert from children’s television show Sesame Street interacting with terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. This led to mass anti-American protests and threats of lawsuits from the creators of the show, Ignacio having effectively ‘sparked an international controversy from his bedroom’ (Jenkins, 2006: 2). Regardless of whether the site is put to constructive or destructive use, its implementation in several areas of life – as important and notable as politics and celebrity status – shows its significance.

Facebook is a popular networking platform in today’s culture, with over 400 million users according to its own statistics page. Its main use is to share information and photos and keep in contact with friends, giving it a fundamentally similar role to longer-existing programs such as Windows Messenger. Hassan (2008: 153) noted how it fulfils a human need for communication and sociability (while ironically its ‘inherent ambivalence’ lacks social coherence, stability and belonging – the very opposite of traditional forms of community [2008: 157]). While it proves useful for generally organising events (interactive invitations and details can be sent out en masse) and creating personal profiles for public display (in what often becomes an obsessive neo-voyeurism in the blurring between public and private sectors) it has also made significant cultural impacts. A 2009 independent ‘campaign’ group page created by Jon and Tracy Morter with the aim of getting rock group Rage Against The Machine to the coveted Christmas Number One chart position was successful, and overthrew The X Factor contestant Joe McElderry – the first time a winner of the show had been beaten to the slot since 2004. Despite the seemingly disproportionate power that panel judge Simon Cowell possessed in regards to promoting music, the power of social networking was able to overcome the corporate institution of ITV and change common social events and perceptions via a small web page which, according to the creators, was started for fun. The wide-scale use of such sites, and the importance placed on them, is reinforced by United States President Obama who, as of May 2010, had sixteen official social networks listed on his home page, including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and MySpace. Furthermore, American news network ABC worked with Saint Anselm College, New Hampshire, to allow Facebook users to post questions and partake in discussions during the 2008 Republican and Democrat debates, with around 1,000,000 users adding the relevant application (Goldman, 2007). Sullivan (2008) praised this campaign idea: ‘social networking sites have increased youth mobilization this election season by creating a way for students to share and access campaign information and support candidates.’ That Facebook is even being used in such high fields as American presidential campaigns shows its significance and, particularly in this case, users’ dependence on it to take part in social and political events.obama

Ultimately, while there is an air of uncertainty about the future of social networking sites in terms of whether or not they will completely replace traditional means, there is indisputable evidence – including the aforementioned examples and studies – that they have been cemented as an integral factor in how we understand today’s technology and interact with the world around us via media. From teenagers sparking ‘international controversy’ from their bedrooms, through the adaptation of new outlets by old institutions, to political candidate’s reliance on them to secure youth votes, such networks truly have become a highly notable part of society. But overall, the fact that I am currently concluding a university essay on how significant they are surely shows how significant they are.

Bibliography

Bell, D. (2007) The Cybercultures Reader: Second Edition, New York: Routledge.

Benkler, Y. (2006) The Wealth of Networks, London: Yale University Press.

Bruns, A., Jacobs, J. (2007) Uses of Blogs, New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Burgess, J., Green, J. (2009) YouTube, Digital Media and Society Series, Cambridge: Polity.

Castells, M., Fernandez-Ardevol, M., Linchuan Qiu, J., Sey, A. (2007) Mobile Communication and Society: A Global Perspective, London: MIT Press.

Deards, H. (2009) Twitter first off the mark with Hudson plane crash coverage, The World Editors Forum, January 19th 2009 <http://www.editorsweblog.org/multimedia/2009/01/twitter_first_off_the_mark_with_hudson_p.php> accessed May 5th, 2010.

Flew, T. (2008) New Media: An Introduction, Oxford: University Press.

Goldman, R. (2007) Facebook Gives Snapshot of Voter Sentiment, ABC News, January 5th 2007 < http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=4091460&page=1> accessed May 11th, 2010.

Goldsmith, J., Wu, T. (2008) Who Controls The Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World, New York: Oxford University Press.

Hassan, R. (2008) The Information Society, Digital Media and Society Series, Cambridge: Polity.

Hesmondhalgh, D. (2007) The Cultural Industries, London: Sage Publications.

Jenkins, H. (2006) Convergence Culture, New York: New York University Press.

Keen, A. (2008) The Cult of the Amateur, London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Ling, R., Donner, J. (2009) Mobile Communication, Digital Media and Society Series, Cambridge: Polity.

Meikle, G. (2009) Interpreting News, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sullivan, M. (2008) ‘Facebook Effect’ Mobilizes Youth Vote, CBS News, November 3rd 2008 http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/11/04/politics/uwire/main4568563.shtml accessed May 11th, 2010.

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