The theme for this week’s set of readings sets us up with an interesting contrast: what is the difference between “old” and “new” social media? Do we use social media differently now because of its immediacy and availability? And if we do, does this mean we are using it for social “good”, like we’d always thought we could?
In Standage’s historical analysis of the implementation and public reaction to the first transatlantic telegraph, he emphasizes the feeling of hope the new communication method created among the public and the excitement that came with connecting the “new” and “old” world. This feeling was referred to as the first step on the quick route to breaking social barriers and encouraging peaceful relationships. In chapter 1, he recalls a public sentiment that “the electric telegraph would make muskets into candlesticks”. There was a sense of optimism that humanity would be united through a wire laid across the sea, which was accepted even after the telegraph system was proven to be flawed and relatively useless, and mostly only used by a small sect of the public.
A similar sentiment connected the rise of the internet and a potential social revolution. The idea that people will use “new” social media for public debate, and organize themselves for a cause is showcased in this short advertisement: Three Little Pigs story that uncovers a “truth” and inspires social change. While we know that a news story and the public debate that ensues does not translate to anything like the outcomes in the video, it does display some of the hope that ordinary people shape what the “real story is” and have the power to potentially create reform.
In the Glaisyer article, he points out that the emerging communications technology has the possibility to empower and open up communication in countries where political expression is likely constrained. He suggests that what makes it different from old social media is its availability to not only bureaucrats and civil servants, but ordinary people. Aside from the physical structures of the new media, perhaps this is the factor that stands out as the biggest transition point between old and new social media. The way that we see the world has also been transformed, because the “whole world” connection that was created through the telegraph was only a connection across the Atlantic Ocean. It is interesting to think about who the public thought of as possible change-makers in history, and what countries were included in this strive to “world peace”. Now, the increased visibility has reached many more places in the world, and our idea of who can be an activist or a drive for social change has been transformed entirely. In this way, new media is empowering.
My question for the class is: Have you ever engaged in public debate on social media? If so, did you ever take action beyond what you read or wrote? If not, what kind of news story would inspire you to do so? Can you think of an example (maybe on our campus) where a public debate came from social media, and any changes were made as a result?