Monday 1 August 2011

Challenging Press Prejudice Against Social Media

Whenever a story hits the mainstream news about social media and networking it is almost always shown in a negative light, or so I have observed in a number of instances. Take for example an article posted by the Daily Mail on Saturday 30th July 2011 with the following headline;
Facebook and Twitter are creating a vain generation of self-obsessed people with child-like need for feedback, warns top scientist
The article penned by Sarah Harris cites comments made by Baroness Greenfield, professor of pharmacology at Oxford University. She believes that friendships forged over the Internet through social networking sites are rewiring our brains thus having a detrimental effect on our concentration and ability to engage with people face to face. In her damning of social media the academic Baroness points her accusatory finger at Facebook and Twitter.

What is interesting to note (and not surprising given it is the Daily Mail) upon reading the article is the lack of any empirical evidence and balance. Ms Harris' article makes no reference to any study carried out by the Baroness so there are no results to examine and refute.There also seems to be an absence of factual statements, instead referring to the Baroness' beliefs or suggestions . Yet the article presents negative and at times stereotypical views of social media users as statements of facts, and even overlooked that Baroness Greenfield made similar claims in an article by The Guardian newspaper

The Daily Mail article has obviously decided to exclude any counter arguments as to the benefits of social media, and cyber interaction. Such benefits include reuniting old friends, schoolmates and work colleagues, and even estranged family members. It also bypasses the ability of social media in providing a more intricate way of keeping in touch with friends and loved ones, be the in the next town, city, or continent. Other omissions include;
  • breaking real time news, 
  • monitoring crisis situations all over the world, 
  • making it possible for even more philanthropic ventures to gain support
  • even helping to solve and/or prevent crimes.
Yet almost all of this can be forgiven since very little of these feature boldly in the mainstream. The most disturbing aspect of Ms Harris' article however is the Baroness' negative profiling of social media users.

It seems the Baroness has damned us all as lazy, infantile, and egotistic sharing banal information about our lives seeking attention by the bucket loads. This might be true of some but by presenting them as facts The Daily Mail has indulged in an exercise of irresponsible journalism. It fails to make any mention of the countless scientists, authors, and other social & political commentators who use social media to share information and engage in healthy debate. The news outlet also ignores those Twitter followers and Facebook friends who are in fact well educated and well read, keep up to date on current events around the world, and even display a sense of social responsibility and moral concerns. 

The Daily Mail article is far from being a balanced reporting of facts supported with evidence but rather a mish-mash of assumptions and perhaps an expression of personal disdain on the part of the Baroness.  It serves no purpose other than to fuel the fire of the Mail's readers who already make such negative assumptions, and thus the article validates their hostile reactions. The Daily Mail would do well to consider this article by Kelly Rusk, and perhaps do a little more research into the benefits of social media.

Image Credit: Ed Yourdon

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