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Talk on #UmiintelektwalTayo: Reasons How People Become a One-hit-wonder on Social Media

Image from rfclipart.com

Image from rfclipart.com

This is adapted from a talk given at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines on the 10th of March, 2014.

One of my pet peeves usually happen during the night as I surf the Internet. You see, I like the silence of the night and the tranquility it brings – people are sleeping and there’s no one to bother you. You can just imagine my irritation when, using an obviously copied and pasted message, someone messages you out of the blue and asks you to like a page, a photo or a project. I know you, the reader, feels so too.

This, to me, is an interesting manifestation of the already changed field of mass communication. Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message places particular emphasis on the way information is sent as opposed to the common emphasis on the content (Asis, classroom discussion). I think this is important. Before, mass communication is very uni-directional. The radio commentator or disk jockey will speak or play music and listeners will receive the information. Tv shows will feature programs of what they think the audiences will like and the audience will receive this input. Simple. Content comes from a source and consumers receive this content. Today, we see an explosion of content from both traditional sources like tv networks and newspapers and non-traditional sources like individuals who create their content in non-commercial venues like their homes or the neighborhood backyard. This content is also subject to sharing, liking, tweeting and commenting in the whole social media universe. Mass media is no longer uni-directional in this respect but more of multi-directional, engaging with more and more people from very different circumstances.

From this point of view, it is easy to suppose why we see rise of memes, twitter accounts, and pages that come from non-traditional means: it’s because the medium, the Internet, allows it. Platforms like Facebook and Youtube are free and blogging services offer more and more competitive packages. Drag and drop website creation are usual and picture editing softwares are becoming better and more affordable. Again, the medium allows these ‘trends’ to exist.

What are the characteristics of this new media? And how do they contribute to the trendization of content? Despite its limitations in reach given the still less than half regular users of the internet in the country (Rasing 2014, seminar talk), I feel that Lazarsfeld and Merton’s discussion on mass media is still relevant. Let’s discuss some.

Lazarsfeld and Merton (2000) says that mass media legitimizes. Let me add democratizing for this particular form of media. The depth and reach of social media allows for more people to participate, advocate and struggle and these are all amplified (Rasing 2014, seminar talk). This amplification gives voice and with voice, power. For the government’s part, it has already pursued initiatives for transparency like what the Department of Budget Management is doing. On the other hand, civil society is replete with initiatives too. There are many petitions that spread online. We have cause pages. We have sites for hand made products from the marginalized.

Ganito din kung bakit ginagamit ang social media para sumikat — dahil available siya para sa marami at libre pa, mas maraming makaka-access. (This is the reason why social media is utilized for fame — it’s available for many and for free thus many are able to access.)

Ganito din kung bakit ginagamit ang social media para sumikat — dahil available siya para sa marami at libre pa, mas maraming makaka-access. (This is the reason why social media is utilized for fame — it’s available for many and for free thus many are able to access.)

The second characteristic Lazarsfeld and Merton discussed is that it enforces social norms. Simply stated, social norms are standards of right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, good and bad. Interestingly, issues that fall into the scope of the camera are compared with the most stringent of social norms. For example, it’s common place to see some form of corporal punishment to children in this country and this is greeted with a shrug or a sympathetic look. It’s a rare occurence to see sharp words of retribution from the crowd in day to day life. This is contrasted to the comments garnered by the previous trending video of a mother hitting her child in bed. The comments it got ranged from admonition to a desire to file charges. Somehow, the commonplace occurence became so ‘evil’ that it had to be addressed immediately. To be sure, I am not saying we must tolerate child abuse. What I’m saying is the renewed gravity we attach to the issue when seen in social media.

Amalayer girl is the same. It’s commonplace to see rudeness not only against guards but to waiters, janitors and even faculty. The difference between this rudeness and Amalayer’s is that the latter became public. Moreover, there is the issue of framing. Rasing (2014, seminar talk) reveals the limitation of perspective offered by a single video regarding the circumstance. We do not know what happened before and what happened next. We are therefore working on very limited information and her case was judged hastily. Amalayer trended because she violated social norms and was seen in a video. If it were only one factor, either she was caught in a video or were only rude to a guard, it would be hard to say that the results would be similar.

The last characteristic of mass media following Lazarsfeld amd Merton is that its narcotizing. Previous modes of mass communications like television fit into this description. The tv, for example, is called an idiot box. I would say that social media still fits into the same characterization. If you look at facebook or twitter, you are introduced to myriads of information from the latest in the scientific community to the juiciest gossips in show business. These information may also be complementary or contradictory — giving information that is harder and harder to make sense of. And the response? Indifference. So there’s a murder somewhere in the Philippines? So what, the same thing happened last week. So Napoles stole this much money? No matter, the Philippines is for the dogs anyway. So my history prof says Marcos is a terrible president? I don’t believe him. This recent meme I saw contradicts what he said. Too much information can lead to indifference.

The same can be said of the selfie. Do you ever feel compelled to just take a picture just because you haven’t uploaded anything in your instagram account recently? Or do you use selfies out of boredom? The selfie narcotizes because we feel more compelled to upload our pictures rather than discuss issues of national importance.

My final point is quite beside the topic but I feel it’s important to discuss. Is the internet a free space? Can we afford being narcoticized?

In this question of the internet as being a venue to fame, I would like to caution. Baka napapansin lang natin yung mga sumisikat. Paano yung mga hindi sumisikat? Paano yung kailangang pasikatin pero hindi pa rin? (Maybe we are only noticing those who grow famous. How about those who do not? What of those we need to make famous but do not become a topic for public discussion?

In this question of the internet as being a venue to fame, I would like to caution. Baka napapansin lang natin yung mga sumisikat. Paano yung mga hindi sumisikat? Paano yung kailangang pasikatin pero hindi pa rin? (Maybe we are only noticing those who grow famous. How about those who do not? What of those we need to make famous but do not become a topic for public discussion?)

In my view, social forces and institutions that were first excluded in this ‘free’ space are trying to create a niche for themselves. Almost all shows have their own fan page and even encourage you to tweet using a personalized hashtag. The radio stations offer extra content through websites. The government is easing its way in through the cybercrime law. Slowly but surely, this so called free space is increasingly subject to regulations

With these regulations returns the traditional standards or norms from the other dominant media. Aren’t the talents that spread limited to singing and dancing? This happens while other relevant information are side tracked. The same expectations from the real world have crept and is creeping into social media. Underneath these layers of expectation comes the motive behind social media sites that is usually unknown or forgotten. In social media, we are the products. Facebook earns through personalized ads and twitter is introducing them too. Profit and earning are again the rules of the game. Remember this: if you aren’t paying, you are probably the product.

Thus, we cannot afford to be narcotized. We must re-appropriate the Internet to serve the people.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you.

Works Cited:

Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Robert K. Merton. 2000. “Mass Communication, Popular Taste and Organized Action.” In Paul Marris and Sue Thornham, Media Studies: A Reader, New York: New York University Press.

 

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Yvan Ysmael Yonaha (@YvanYonaha) is a Development Practitioner, Technology Enthusiast and Productivity Buff. Yvan holds an AB Degree in Sociology from UP Diliman. He is a former instructor in the Department of Social Science for the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina, and currently works for Ateneo de Manila University as a formator of the Office of Social Concern and Involvement.