Freeing the genie
I do not claim to be a netizen, and to know the language used by what we consider nerds, but certainly the advent of computer technology has opened the gates to what we now call the social media revolution. The social media are contrasted from the mainstream media in the sense that they are made up of hoi polloi seeking to express and participate in the discussion of issues that affect them through the magic of online communications.
Online communication has transformed democracy from being abstract to alive. The interactive participation of people in the discussion, which is an important element of online communication, is what distinguishes social media from the mainstream or establishment media. Wikipedia defines “social media” as the collection of online communication channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration. Websites and applications dedicated to forums, microblogging, social networking, social bookmarking, social curation, and wikis are among the different types of social media.
On other hand, Wikipedia refers to “online communications” to the ways in which individuals can communicate with each other over a computer network, such as the internet. These include: chat rooms; e-mail; filling out online forms; forums; instant messaging; posting comments on websites, such as blogs; social networking sites; and VoIP. Among the prominent examples of online social media are Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Instagram, Wikipedia, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Reddit, 8chan, 4chan, Voat, YikYak, etc.
Although online communication is taken as integral to social media, the latter has its own style, objective or advocacy that suits the interest of the internet user. It may range from personal exchange of information, which has become a rich source of data by spooks, for people who want to indulge in Hawkins-type discussion about quantum physics, and to one we might say risqué topic like learning how misogynist behave, why pedophiles are attracted to children, child pornography, cultist religion, and violence which is the favourite of war freaks. Everybody is free to participate including business freeloaders advertising their products hoping to get away with the taxes through online transactions.
Notably, the term mainstream media has reference to large news organizations that control and own, not only the major newspapers but also broadcast and television networks, and are able to broadcast nationwide, and their broadsheets widely circulated. Strictly speaking, the mainstream media amount to a monopoly in the dissemination of information. The advent of online communication forced the establishment media to change its name to what we now call mainstream media to distinguish itself from the social media as if to denigrate the latter as confined to community-based issues or a channel to chat.
According to Wikipedia, “this concentration of media ownership has raised concerns of a homogenization of viewpoints presented to news consumers. Consequently, the term mainstream media has been widely used in conversation and the blogosphere, often in oppositional, pejorative, or dismissive senses.” They often set the agenda for public discussion, and manipulate its outcome based on their pre-conceived views, and often reflecting the interest of big business, and the values promoted by the social institutions commonly referred to as the establishment.
Even if the social media has become so popular, many insist on calling it an alternative media. However, it is far different from the alternative media used by the student activists in the 60s where they attempted to compete with the establishment media. Their efforts were doomed to fail because of financial constraints. Many of them, though, have their own political inclinations to differentiate them from the establishment media. Their rejection of almost anything that represents the establishment has become their trademark.
Moreover, unlike the early activists who argued much in rejecting the institution, the disciples of social media seek to identify their views with people who share, but not necessarily adhere to their ideology, to a given issue. Among themselves, they have a broad range of differences. Each articulates on a particular issue, but they easily coagulate on issues to which they happen to subscribe.
The advent of online communication changed all that. The traditional or establishment media was badly affected that it had to change its strategy to maintain its monopoly in the dissemination of information. Some attempted to put up their own online social media outfit but that proved futile. The social media, being the creation of online communication, placed the mainstream media on the defensive in warding off the public who disagree with their newsfeed and canned editorials that are meant to sway public opinion to favor them.
Online social media cannot debate or argue against their subscribers to accept their pre-conceived ideas of the order of things without affecting their credibility. Disagreement often results in a spectacle of scurrilous and libelous debate among its online participants.
What bothers many is that an increasing number of people who have access to the internet are likely to patronize the social media not as their primary source of information but to analyze and participate in the discussion of issues no matter how illogically, irrelevantly, nastily or nonsensically they might attempt to express themselves. Being an online form of communication, it brings to life the meaning of freedom of communications. Here, online social media saw the convergence of freedom of communication and democracy, and their blending now threatens or demolishes certain assumptions and values projected by the mainstream media.
It is completely democratic because the dissemination of information and ideas is not a one-way traffic. The participants are free to disagree, or if one runs out of argument, he can simply switch to another online server or switch off his internet, and nobody can stop him. The other party can equally delete or unfriend people who are nasty, rude and uncouth, but nobody cares because there are millions out there waiting to become a friend and eager to participate in the discussion.
Maybe the inventor of online communication never anticipated that he would open the genie that could overwhelm the mainstream media and facilitate the rapid flow of information. The uncanny part about the information revolution is that both the mainstream and the social media are using the same medium. Aside, from the necessity of having a computer as their vehicle, both use the same search engine to gather data, and use the same online communication as their arena to fight for their ideas, beliefs and principles.
At first, the debate in the social media was something of a fracas because every participant has his own idea and information to peddle in the so-called “free market of ideas.” Slowly, they are now seeking to form their group to find solace in being heard as a voice. Even if they are not identified as a bloc with political, ideological, or religious beliefs, they easily unite on certain issues often opposed by the mainstream media. Many of those sentiments reflect the inequities in our society and contempt for the elitist system.
Online communications tore down the wall that once prevented outsiders from participating. As participants to online social media, they are numerically superior, and their contrasting views have greatly eroded the credibility of poll surveys, which have been used as tools by the mainstream media to assert as true its stand on issues, and prediction of candidates of their choice.