Fetishation of Social Media

An article on the HuffingtonPost, by Arianne Huffington, entitled, “Virality Uber Alles: What the Fetishization of Social Media Is Costing Us All.”  Below are some paragraphs that I thought summarized the gist of the article…

Going viral has gone viral. Social media have become the obsession of
the media. It’s all about social now: What are the latest social tools?
How can a company increase its social reach? Are reporters devoting
enough time to social? Less discussed — or not at all — is the value
of the thing going viral. Doesn’t matter — as long as it’s social. And
viral!

The media world’s fetishization of social media has reached
idol-worshipping proportions. Media conference agendas are filled with
panels devoted to social media and how to use social tools to amplify
coverage, but you rarely see one discussing what that coverage should
actually be about. As Wadah Khanfar, former Director General of Al
Jazeera, told our editors when he visited our newsroom last week, “The
lack of contextualization and prioritization in the U.S. media makes it
harder to know what the most important story is at any given time.”

Our media culture is locked in the Perpetual Now, constantly chasing
ephemeral scoops that last only seconds and that most often don’t matter
in the first place, even for the brief moment that they’re “exclusive…”

Michael Calderone about the effect that social media have had on 2012
campaign coverage. “In a media landscape replete with Twitter, Facebook,
personal blogs and myriad other digital, broadcast and print sources,”
he wrote, “nothing is too inconsequential to be made consequential…

“We are in great haste,” wrote
Thoreau in 1854, “to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to
Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to
communicate.” And today, we are in great haste to celebrate something
going viral, but seem completely unconcerned whether the thing that went
viral added one iota of anything good — including even just simple
amusement — to our lives…. We’re treating virality as a good in and of itself, moving forward for
the sake of moving.
“Hey,” someone might ask, “where are you going?” “I
don’t know — but as long as I’m moving it doesn’t matter!” Not a very
effective way to end up in a better place…

“But as Twitter’s Rachael Horwitz wrote to me in an email, “Twitter’s algorithm favors novelty over popularity.”

“Indeed, to further complicate the science of trending topics, a subject
can be too popular to trend: In December of 2010, just after Julian
Assange began releasing U.S. diplomatic cables, about 1 percent of all
tweets (at the time, that would have been roughly a million tweets a
day) were about WikiLeaks, and yet #wikileaks trended so rarely that
people accused
Twitter of censorship. In fact, the opposite was true: there were too
many tweets about WikiLeaks, and they were so constant that Twitter
started treating WikiLeaks as the new normal.”

So, the question remains: as we adopt new and better ways to help people
communicate, can we keep asking what is really being communicated? And
what’s the opportunity cost of what is not being communicated while
we’re all locked in the perpetual present chasing whatever is trending?…

These days every company is hungry to embrace social media and virality,
even if they’re not exactly sure what that means, and even if they’re
not prepared to really deal with it once they’ve achieved it.

Or as Sheryl Sandberg put it,
“What it means to be social is if you want to talk to me, you have to
listen to me as well.” A lot of brands want to be social, but they don’t
want to listen, because much of what they’re hearing is quite simply
not to their liking, and, just as in relationships in the offline world,
engaging with your customers or your readers in a transparent and
authentic way is not all sweetness and light. So simply issuing a
statement saying you’re committed to listening isn’t the same thing as
listening. And as in any human relationship, there is a dark side to
intimacy.

“The campaigns can sort of distract reporters throughout the day by helping fuel these mini-stories, mini-controversies,” said the New York Times’
Jeff Zeleny. Mini-stories. Mini-controversies. Just the sort of
Twitter-friendly morsels that many in the media think are best-suited to
the new social media landscape. But that conflates the form with the
substance, and we miss the desperate need for more than snackable,
here-now-gone-in-15-minutes scoops. So we end up with a system in which
the media are being willingly led by the campaigns away from the issues
that matter and the solutions that will actually make a difference in
people’s lives. 
[emphsis mine]

Read the whole article.

What might this say for the Church and its obsessive, and at times pathological, preoccupation with social media?  Are the same observations written in this article true for us?  I hear from so many sources of younger people that older leadership in charge simply do not and will not listen (see the bold paragraph, above).

The enduring aspects of the Church in her liturgies, her patterns-of-life, and her foci mitigates against such trendy irrelevancies, yet many of us seem to think that everything must change now, often, and quickly, for its own sake, or we will be become irrelevant. Too often we think that which has endured must be sacrificed for the sake of trendy popularity. We willingly sell our patrimony for a bowl of desperately sought affirmation.

If you pay attention to what younger people are actually saying (in the aggregate), even if it isn’t what we want to hear, we might learn something that actually helps our situation. What I hear and see in the arrogate, and tell me otherwise form sources other than your own opinion, is that younger people are seeking after time-tested substance that is proven by its ability to endure and survive over time (and over time doesn’t mean over the last 30 years). We are tired of the chaos of constant change devoid of substance.  What is sought are examples of real lives that demonstrate a sense of proven surety built on consequential relationships focused on something other than self.

Virality doesn’t give such things – the type of things that give meaning to one’s life and a sense of true accomplishment and worth.

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