What is Social Media
Social media are distinct from industrial media, such as newspapers, television, and film. While social media are relatively inexpensive and accessible tools that enable anyone (even private individuals) to publish or access information, industrial media generally require significant resources to publish information. Examples of industrial media issues include a printing press or a government-granted spectrum license.
“Industrial media” are commonly referred to as “traditional”, “broadcast” or “mass” media.
One characteristic shared by both social media and industrial media is the capability to reach small or large audiences; for example, either a blog post or a television show may reach zero people or millions of people. The properties that help describe the differences between social media and industrial media depend on the study. Some of these properties are:
- Reach – both industrial and social media technologies provide scale and enable anyone to reach a global audience.
- Accessibility – the means of production for industrial media are typically owned privately or by government; social media tools are generally available to anyone at little or no cost.
- Usability – industrial media production typically requires specialized skills and training. Most social media do not, or in some cases reinvent skills, so anyone can operate the means of production.
- Recency – the time lag between communications produced by industrial media can be long (days, weeks, or even months) compared to social media (which can be capable of virtually instantaneous responses; only the participants determine any delay in response). As industrial media are currently adopting social media tools, this feature may well not be distinctive anymore in some time.
- Permanence – industrial media, once created, cannot be altered (once a magazine article is printed and distributed changes cannot be made to that same article) whereas social media can be altered almost instantaneously by comments or editing.
Community media constitute an interesting hybrid of industrial and social media. Though community-owned, some community radios, TV and newspapers are run by professionals and some by amateurs. They use both social and industrial media frameworks.
In his 2006 book The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, Yochai Benkler analyzed many of these distinctions and their implications in terms of both economics and political liberty. However, Benkler, like many academics, uses the neologism network economy or “network information economy” to describe the underlying economic, social, and technological characteristics of what has come to be known as “social media”.
Andrew Keen criticizes social media in his book The Cult of the Amateur, writing, “Out of this anarchy, it suddenly became clear that what was governing the infinite monkeys now inputting away on the Internet was the law of digital Darwinism, the survival of the loudest and most opinionated. Under these rules, the only way to intellectually prevail is by infinite filibustering.”