Since May, ASC has had a lot of activities focused on understanding how Google Wave, Twitter, and other new social media is changing the way we consume news and respond to it. I just finished reading some really interesting articles and watching some videos of how people’s behaviors seems to be changing.
First, on June 8th, there was a report that described how, because of the great variety of choices now people have in what they read online, readers now tend to choose news that only fit their view. The research, done by researchers at Ohio State, showed how students tend to seek out and spent time reading media articles that focus on points of views that fit their political ideologies. Students spent 36% more time reading articles that agreed with their points of view.
Perhaps this isn’t too surprising, but it has a huge implication for the future of political discourse, since a healthy political debate can only happen when an educated populace is willing to spend time to consider both sides of the issue. This is why Wikipedia has a neutral point of view principle for all articles. The above news article further suggests that the students prefer blogs instead of traditional media outlets for their news. This supports the idea that they read blogs that cater to particular points of views. Moreover, 30% of those surveyed believed blogs are actually more accurate. If this is true, one question to consider is whether having a more balkanized news diet might further polarize the public opinion, and further erode healthy dialog that is necessary for the society to function.
On a more positive note, I also watched Clay Shirky’s recent talk on how social media is changing political discourse, because it now enable for not just 1-to-1 (point to point, or telephone/telegram-like technology) or 1-to-many (TV, radio, etc). It now also enables many-to-many communication and coordination. He tells stories of how the Chinese citizens used social media to get out the word about the Sichuan earthquake. They told stories of the heartache as well as the discovery of the corruption of the officials who were responsible for the bad construction jobs on school buildings.
Social media does seem to have changed the speed, cost, and the ability of the public to communicate and coordinate with each other. Citizen journalism does seem like it might have the potential to tip the balance of power back to the people.
Ironically, after these two pieces of information, I’m trying to decide whether I want to feel happy or sad about the state of affairs. I need to spend more time thinking about the changes social media is bringing to the world.