Exposing the misunderstanding behind the belief that social media makes us less social

By April 24, 2012 One Comment

Regular readers will know I’m a big believer in the power of social media as a force for good in our society. Now that everyone can publish their opinion and no-one can control the media integrity is becoming more and more important for brands and individuals, and I think that’s great.

There are many people who think differently however, the most recent example of which is MIT professor Sherry Turkle who wrote a piece in the New York Times arguing that all the connecting people are doing on Facebook comes at the expense of real conversations. In other words social media is bad because it weakens our relationships. This commentary from Turkle adds to a daily stream of stories from publications like the Daily Mail about the problems that social media is bringing to our society, from people embarrassing themselves by sharing inappropriately to people using Facebook to approach young girls for sex.

These stories irk me because they don’t reflect the truth of the matter, so I was pleased to see GigaOM produce a comprehensive analysis of how Turkle has misunderstood the role that social media plays in people’s lives.

As you can read in more detail on GigaOM, the flaw in Turkle’s reasoning is that status updates on Facebook and texting are not substituting for conversation or deep relationships, rather, they are compliments to other deeper, richer, forms of communication, including one-on-one conversations. In fact, the research shows that people who are more social online are also more social offline.

I think a lot of the negative sentiment surrounding social media is best understood as fear of the new and fear of change, and echoes the moral panics that have histroically accompanied new forms of media. I strongly believe that over time social media will become an accepted and valued part of the fabric of society in the same way as telephones, television and many other new technologies have before.

That said, there are many important concerns around social media that need to be addressed and probably regulated for, most obviously child safety and privacy. However, those concerns are best addressed in an atmosphere of calm and well informed debate. My fear, and reason for writing this post, is that we will get regulation driven more by fear than logic.