Social Media & Ethics

As I was watching Clay Shirky: How social media can make history, I began thinking how new forms of media challenge traditional narrative forms. One to many is a traditional way of communication. Many to Many is the new pattern that is a result of a digital technology innovation. As we digitize our books, our tv programs, our thoughts and studies, the internet becomes a resource of information, a centralized location, where that information can be found. As media becomes more social, media landscape differentiates more dramatically from the traditional methods of communication.

Social media is not just many to many communication, it also is a fast, immersive, and open way of communication. What took us weeks to hear in the 20th century, today maybe heard immediately around the globe. Social media can make history in a quick instance. Anybody can do it, anywhere. This defines participatory qualities of the social media. As digital tools become more main stream, more of us able to communicate through digital commons of the internet.

These new digital communication platforms are here to stay and I don’t believe they are a fad. The concept behind the social media platforms such as Facebook is rather a movement, an evolution of mass media communications.

On the other hand, as we jump and cross the platforms Facebook + YouTube + … + Twitter = we trans-mediate. As we communicate the message across different social media platforms, we create depth to the information. The more information uploaded on a subject of interest, the more objective the information on that subject becomes. The change of many to many, that Clay was talking about in the video, where audience is also a participant, becomes a greater rival to a controlled monologue of one to many.

As I was watching Clay Shirky’s “How social media can make history” once again I want to sway the conversation to the idea of ethical control. This new way of communication is a great way to deliver a message instantly to everybody. But what I am interested to understand better is weather the ethics of information delivery play any significance in the new digital media practices. What if the message intended to sway or misinform its audience.

In books, scientific journals, lifestyle magazines, television programs, information is carefully proofed and researched. It takes a tremendous amount of resources to publish a book or a scientific article. When we use Wikipedia, YouTube, and other social media platforms we do not know how credible the sources may be, we also do not know how much time the author(s) spent on preparing that article, how much legitimacy is there to the content. Would you trust the quotes from Wikipedia or Wiki Leaks? Would you site Twitter on your research paper? It makes you question the source. Is digital collectivism better than a single voice? This phenomena is not without its pros and cons, as you can imagine.

Is there some sort of a quality control mechanism, a structure, a set of unwritten rules that guide individuals to submit information to the collective. Should that process be guided by ethics? How much knowledge is enough to be ethical?

Perre Levy’s prophesy: “everything occurs within the obscure, invisible folds of the collective itself… the continuity that it weaves within the hearts of the individuals who compose it.” (Reading: Pierre Levy, The Art and Architecture of Cyberspace). Pros are the ethics that are a second nature to the community of composers who contribute to the knowledge. As we post topics on Wikipedia, the community of enthusiasts archive and curate information over time, thus contributing to the research. In such a way topic’s legitimacy is shaped through a community of authors, rather than just an opinion driven by other motivating factors (political, self-serving). Well, if nothing else, then at least theoretically. It is obvious to assume that if you don’t know a thing about a certain subject, you are less likely to create a Wiki page on it… Or will you? and… Would you? And those who do for the self-driven benefit, are they at fault from the perspective of ethics?

The cons of this is the absence of ethics or the intentional distortion of information for whatever self-serving benefit to the author (entertainment, amusement, capital gain, political power, etc.). I believe our social media platforms often become vulnerable to that. It is easy to create a cross-platform presence of a false subject, which may produce false information. This is where the control of information through education and understanding may come in play. Education and awareness and ability to cross reference play a vital roll in controlling the authenticity and the truthfulness of information that we ingest on a daily basis.

In conclusion, we, as individuals, must be aware of the nuances introduced by the social media. We need to understand its pros and cons and be able to distinguish what’s is real in the cyber world and what is a well-crafted lie. Collective intelligence is a professional content created by individuals for the benefit of all.