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Social media, the reshaping of communication and who controls how we talk to one another

The term Social Media refers to the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content." Social media are media for social interaction, as a superset beyond social communication. Enabled by ubiquitously accessible and scalable communication techniques, social media substantially change the way of communication between organizations, communities, as well as individuals.


WTF does that even mean? The term social media with this definition is truly focused on media - how we are communicated to and are suddenly empowered to communicate back to the powers which use the media.

It's then defined as a way to share content (information) with everyone.

So what does that all really mean? It means people can communicate with one another and with entities (companies and the like) freely.

Except we can't (or don't). We as groups of people have decided what communication platforms define us and our methods of communication. In much of the western world, Facebook and Twitter have won and the communication platforms of choice.

So what we really have is a communication platform facilitated by the vision and decisions of a few companies who control the channel. (Brief side note - I find it hilarious that social media revolutionized traditional media by allowing/forcing companies to engage in two way conversations only to find that we are beholden to new masters of the channels of communication.)

So what has been the overall effect? Platforms like Facebook and Twitter change group dynamics (Google+ may be headed more towards 'normality' but I honestly don't have any friends that actually use it to tell). Most people have groups of friends and you communicate to one another and as a group. However, Facebook and Twitter aren't naturally designed to mimic group discussions.

When I hang out with a bunch of friends, we all talk and share information with the group. Conversation builds naturally on top of the contributions of everyone. Context is understood.

But when I go online, I write a message to friend 1, like friend 2's photo, @friend3 thanks for the link, etc. My communication is fractured, any group context and dynamic is often lost and information goes from a many-to-many (M-M) to one-to-one (1-1).

I also change the way I communicate, conversations start as one-to-many (1-M) because I write 'I just wrote an article about social media communication
' as my status. Who decides to read that, interact with that information is something I have no control over. In a group, everyone is listening (or pretending!) and it's natural to followup with an idea that is shared. However, online, that dynamic is lost for the most part. There is no guilt, shame or awkwardness because of non-interaction.

That last statement might sound like a good thing, but it's also bad. It means the ideas we want to discuss and get feedback from people may get ignored. Information we shared gets lost and forgotten. In fact, it may have never even been given a chance because of serendipity or an algorithm decided your friends wouldn't care and it didn't show up on their news feed (one-to-none communication!).

Now let me loop back around to group dynamics, what I have described is happening for each person in any group. So the effect is magnified many times over and the information and context of a group dynamic is lower for everyone (probably asymmetrically - there is always that one person who seems to stalk everything you do, even if you don't want them to but are too polite to say it).

There are ways people have worked or fixed the system to fit their needs better '@friend1 @friend2 @friend3 let's hang out tonight', 'I wish HBO would follow the caps around all season filming for 24/7 #hockey #caps.'

That doesn't change the fact we are fundamentally beholden to the platforms we have chosen to use. They dictate and control the way we find and consume information, and how we interact with other people.

Don't you ever wonder what got lost in the platform because normal communication with your friends, family and peers has been shifted to a select few defined platforms that work a certain way? We've certainly hit a period where technology has changed and continues to shape the way we communicate with one another, but I worry about who controls it.