I’ve been thinking about the advantages and risks of social media after Talking Mats recently reached 10K Twitter followers.
We (and by we I really mean my co-director, Lois, who had the vision – and at times the addiction! -to embrace and develop social media for Talking Mats) have worked hard at engaging with people who have a similar ethos as us i.e. to support and improve the lives of people with communication disabilities. We have linked with people who could teach us new ways of looking at the world we work in and with whom we could share our ideas. We realised that social media is a powerful tool to connect with like-minded people across the world. In combination with Twitter and Facebook we write regular blogs illustrating relevant- and at times fun – issues from our work. We hope our website is seen as a rich resource of information for anyone interested in communication.
However, I recently listened to a TED talk given by Wael Ghonim. He spoke about how in 2011 his use of social media helped spark the Arab Spring when he set up a Facebook page which attracted tens of thousands of followers and became a place for crowdsourcing and sharing. However, his initial euphoria turned to despair as the revolution turned ugly and the social media he was involved with also turned unpleasant. He describes what he now believes are 5 main problems with the direction that social media has taken.
- Social media can spread rumours that become seen as truth
- Social media can result in ‘echo-chambers’ – we only communicate with people we agree with
- Social media can quickly shift from discussion to disagreement and anger
- Social media encourages us to make statements (as a result of having only 140 characters) rather than ask questions about complex issues. Everyone can read these statements and we feel we need to defend them
- Broadcasting becomes more important than engagement; shallow comments become more important than discussion; we talk AT people rather than WITH each other; we become obsessed with numbers of posts and followers rather than with the quality of the discussion and who follows us.
He concluded his talk by suggesting that we need to develop social media protocols to create civility and respect and reasoned argument e.g. get credit for the number of people whose mind you change. I found his arguments compelling and uncomfortable – I do recognise Wael Ghonim’s ‘problems’ when I venture into other areas on social media such as politics.
However, this has not been our experience and we are reassured that in the social media world of communication disability people are civil, respectful and generous. We at Talking Mats like to think that we are using social media as a forum for engagement, thoughtfulness, quality discussions, learning new ideas and developing understanding without hostility, anger and shallowness..
And long may this continue…..