I wrote this in my second semester at the College of Idaho. It was originally untitled, but my irony-free usage of "The Social Media" in it made the right title obvious in retrospect.
Media pundits often speak breathlessly about the ongoing democratization of our world because of the increasing involvement of the “Joe the plumbers” of the world. The phenomenon through which they have come to be involved has been referred to as “grassroots” or “citizen” journalism: a process by which citizens are actively involved in the creation and editing of online news stories through the ability to comment, filter, and create/share substantially anything they want.
I have participated in this phenomenon through “social media” websites like Digg.com and Reddit.com, where I have long been voting on stories in an effort to collaborate with my fellow users to bring the stories most relevant to our microcosm of society to the front page. The intersection of opinions about what news is most relevant can lead to interesting problems.
When I first got started using the social media, it was through digg.com, which was at that time a relatively small community of likeminded users. I found the vast majority of the news stories to be relevant because its combination of important social news and irreverent internet jokes appealed to the eighteen year old, slightly pimplier version of me.
Digg.com started to become less appealing to me as its user base started to grow unwieldy. Since Digg’s user structure depends on users discussing and voting on issues for one front page. There is only one front page, so the interests of the community must be quite relevant to one another in order to give a relevant experience to the whole userbase. As the site continually grew, the friendly community of eighteen year old boys laughing at funny pictures of animals and learning about the Austrian school of economics swiftly became an online red light district. With each incremental user, Digg took a step down an inexorable path to become an Obama/Ron Paul/repetitive joke machine. I started to grow dissatisfied as Digg grew into an online times square: a big place so actively purporting to be hip that one cannot help but be repulsed.
As my revulsion grew, I began looking for sites which had similar functionality but a method to control the overwhelming number of users on a site. After much searching, I found reddit.com, a site which allows the user to subscribe to various news feeds in specific subject areas. The website then concatenates those various news feeds into a single feed, which effectively displays a great deal of information that is relevant to my interests, while still being edited by a small group of relatively sane individuals.
This forum allows for both insightful and irreverent discussion of the articles, as well as an ability to comment on Reddit rather than the underlying site in order to discuss the story in a more back-and-forth way than by simply posting a reaction on the website and seeing what happens. The reddit/digg manner of interaction also allows for the posting of “anti-news”, as in the revelation of irresponsible coverage of news reporting or the non-coverage of an event.
The social media has helped me not just because it steers me towards “the best” article in any particular news cycle, but also because it has the capability to bring stories to our attention that would not normally find themselves headline news on network TV: stories like a group of anonymous internet users collaborating online to catch a pedophile, or the Pope’s continuing non-action in sending condoms to Africa. The sites mix funny news with real news and real chat in the comments, in a way that makes them palatable and fun to consume.
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