As I have said before I love pod casts. One of my favorites is Mitch Joel’s Twist Image Pod Cast in which he discusses various aspects of digital media with his friends and colleagues. Last week he interviewed Douglas Rushkoff who is an author and media critic.
The conversation revolved around the corporate ownership of social media and the role individuals play in creating content for big brands. Rushkoff criticizes both the output and the content creation process because those who benefit from the sharing and the likes are the corporations who host the material and not those who create it. The original hope for social networking platforms was that they would democratize communications, allowing anyone to share his or her opinion, art or ideas.
In reality social networking has become a means for companies to track individuals and serve them advertising to sell products, rather than allowing for free expression. The problem is compounded when those who create content act to increase their social media presence by playing to the crowd and as a result reducing their creativity. What was initially empowering for individuals is now owned by brands.
Social networks have become mass media with the same goals as television, radio or print. There is the illusion that social networks serve the greater good, however as Mitch Joel says…’meet the new boss, same as the old boss.’
Rushkoff goes onto explain that free isn’t always better, citing examples of paid media that have higher quality than user generated content. For example, he mentions HBO and Netflix, two services that deliver strong programming as compared to YouTube videos that individuals create and post.
One danger is that children are growing up in a world where they catalog and share their thoughts, feelings, ideas, talent and dreams without ever considering what it means to “sell out.” In fact, teens who Rushkoff interviewed, could not define the concept of selling out.
Of course, we are all complicit in our usage of social media when it serves our purposes. As a professor who teaches social media marketing to students I am well aware of the paradox.