Saturday, February 21, 2009

More people are talking, but are they debating?

Another thought that I couldn't finish earlier and that I explored in a post-class discussion with Jon. 

The question I'm asking is: What is the effect of social media of the structure and nature of the public debate?

And my hypothesis is: The more importance social media gains, the more people will stay isolated in their ideological silos. The public discourse will become more and more fragmented and more and more opinionated. 

With public debate I mean the basic democratic process of the exchange of opinions, information and arguments that forms the fundament for every functioning civil society. Social media like facebook, twitter, etc. makes it very easy for very individual to only read blogs, to only see clips and to only interact with people that share and strengthen the own conviction. While classical media - due to its limitations and journalistic background - forced every consumer to get at least into superficial contact with contrarian viewpoints, social media makes it possible to live in a world without real debate.

Given these thoughts, I strongly disagree with the thesis presented in class by yesterday's guests that social media automatically makes the public debate richer, deeper and broader. The opposite could be the effect. More people are talking, but nobody is debating. I'm not saying this can not be prevented or overcome but so far the basic insight that noise is not equal to debate seems to be lacking.

Please don't interfere from my critical postings that I don't see the value and fascination of the social media revolution. Yet, as academics, we should put our focus also on the potential dangers, weaknesses and backslashes. See you all next week and have a great weekend.

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