The Social Bubble

The rise of the social web has been tremendous. Everyone from Digital Marketers to corporate Chief Executives, the Media and for the most part, government have been put on notice. The massive ability to express one’s self has never been more pronounced. Even in China, where our perception of censorship is high, the ability to express themselves is higher than ever before. The questions now arises, are we merely existing in our own little echo chamber?

The New York Times, being of reputable news organization published that Apple and Twitter had discussions “in recent months”. Vague enough to sound immediate, and loose enough to make the reader draw conclusions. Apple, according to the New York Times was at some point interested in putting a “Strategic Investment” in Twitter. A euphemism for “putting a large enough money, without outright buying the company.”

The Wall Street Journal countered it as saying that this didn’t “happen in recent months”. Rather, it said, “A year ago”, which really means, a while back, and so far back that it doesn’t really matter.

The Verge recently published an opinion piece saying this “leak” was a simple way of raising the value of social again. This “leak”, the Verge says comes after a string so social companies that have gone public are losing value. Facebook. Linkedin. Groupon. The Verge argued that Apple is being made to look like it needed Twitter, but Twitter, being a company of sound revenue stream, and strong future value could walk away from a marriage, or at the very least, girlfriend status with the world’s most profitable company, slash world’s most eligible bachelor. Twitter, The Verge adds is being prepared for an Initial Public Offering.

These are businesses that thrive in providing a user environment. Their value is only as great as the community they foster. Like Massively Multiplayer Online games such as World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Star Wars, and so many others— dependent on subscribers. And like magazines, newspapers, and similar enterprise in the last century, wholly dependent on those subscribers, viewers, readership, in short that very thing television covets so much— eyeballs. The more people use their service, the more revenue they generate from advertising and from their other activities.

Are people’s interest in social waning? Have we reached a point where Social is no longer the shiny new thing? Has the Social Web simply reached the point where being the norm, it is now time to evolve?

All opinion matter, and weigh the same, and it is just some people’s opinion matter more than others.

The perceived value of social is how supposedly it can influence people. There is a perception problem with regard to social. Influence is borrowed from television, which is a euphemism for “how many are watching this program”. The question is simply put: “How influential, is social?”

We’ve seen Gladwell’s take on the matter. We’ve seen that limit on social activism on twitter. Like radio before it during the 20th century, it is a great way to send out a call to arms. It is great to gather people to serve as conduit during a crisis like a national disaster. And these social tools have been instrumental during the London Riots.

During the 2010 Presidential election in the Philippines, digital, which for marketers translate roughly to social it was roughly about shaping public perception on a candidate. The choice of dimension was merely in the shaping of information, through news, and often opinion. Whether it was through blogs, or social networks like twitter and Facebook. It is the same thought for a lot of people building blogs, creating blogging groups or networks. It is a question of readership, and a question of demographics.

An anti-government or an “Anti-Aquino” genre blog could be very much popular with people who disagree with President Aquino, for example. By the definition of “influence” number of comments in a blog is their barometer of “success”. It is the same as every message board that has ever existed, including Facebook groups and Yahoo groups. This kind of specialization creates an “echo chamber” of likeminded people discussing the same matter ad infinitum. This “echo chamber” effect exacerbate an increasing problem regarding cherry picking facts, and turning opinion into fact.

Put it another way, it is the problem of the hive-mind effect that Jaron Lanier puts forward in Digital Maoism, writ-large. These are the hazards of our digital collectivism. It is the same warning we get from Steve Jobs who once lamented, we’ve descended into a “Nation of bloggers” that there has no filter. No editorial oversight. No determination of the facts or even trying to determine what the facts are.

People now cherry pick facts. Further, they cherry pick opinion, and turn them into facts. This cherry picking of facts, and turning opinion into fact is a huge, global problem exacerbated by this near limitless ability to express one’s self.

The same echo chamber exists on Twitter. People determine who they follow. And on political issues, this tend to be people who are likeminded. So real sentiment analysis no matter which tool you use— Social Mention, Radian6 or so many others is lacking because our perception isn’t determined by hard facts. So quantifiable facts on sentiment is hard to come by, and arguably impossible to get as our understanding of artificial intelligence, natural language and sentiment is in the infancy stage. A case in point: How does a machine understand sarcasm?

A quick scan of the term “Tim Berners-Lee” (also see the misspelled term “Tim Burners-Lee“) the day of the 2012 Summer Olympics would be instrumental to this. So much noise, and so many misconception of the Internet, and the World Wide Web. It isn’t difficult to understand when the Wall Street Journal— a so called reputable source runs a piece that magnifies such ignorance just a week before.

So what happens when a nation of bloggers are right, and reputable establishment is wrong? When the Wall Street Journal flunks Internet History and Blogs step to Educate. There’s also this storify when Twitter corrects NBC News.

This works the same way with social sites like Groupon, even sites like eBay. How do you determine what’s real, and what’s not? How do you determine if it isn’t all one big scam?

What happens when you try to marry the two? The flexibility of Social Media, and real journalists laying down the facts, and giving smart analysis of situation based on those facts and not the echo chamber? A reframing journalism through the prism of social media tools. So is this Rappler?

What people are doing is that they are sharing less. Even ordinary people are learning that Facebook isn’t a place to write about everything. No one needs to know that “you went to the bathroom”. It is a place however to communicate, what’s cool, and what’s not determined by your audience. Your Facebook high school buddies may appreciate goofing off, or an event where you all meet up. Your office mates might enjoy a good album on your latest basketball game. So is it a case of, sometimes, social works, and sometimes, it is just wrong? How do you figure out when it is right, and when it is wrong?

Of course, Digital is more than Social. With social being subset of digital. Digital could be about shaping campaign contribution. It could be getting the word out to supporters. It could be about determining electoral strategy based on field reports from volunteers on the ground.

Digital strategy could also be employed on the other side— citizens publishing who won or lost on a per district, electoral map. Think traffic reporting or weather reporting but applied to a map, and driven by the social web. It has the potential for reducing electoral sabotage or cheating. Think NAMFREL– a citizen group in the Philippines dedicated towards free and clean elections by having a secondary count.

Digital could be employed to determine rain fall or flooding. These digital tools are more than social. And while we lament at the noise of social media, there are clear signals that it can be a tool for change. A Facebook status can help change someone’s life, and for the better. Real discussion, and real action can take place. How can Social Media reframe debate so that civility, and respect are at the center piece of every debate, and discussion? How do you burst the social bubble? How do you pop the bubble of the hive-mind? How do you filter the noise?

Image credit: public domain.

Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.

  • “People now cherry pick facts. Further, they cherry pick opinion, and turn them into facts.”

    It’s a skill, not a problem. Just as we require mathematicians, we also require artists who can express ideas in new ways, extending from the facts to the meaning of the facts.

    I think there is no waning of social media, just a leveling of the ability of greedy monopoly capitalist hogs to make more money. Still, Mr. Jobs was right. Filters are needed, and so are coagulators to collect disparate ideas into a force.

    It certainly is not dull.

    • cocoy

      The answer I think is a mashup of journalism and blogging. Social media tools + journalistic rules. Meaning there has to be an editor, there has to be a verification of facts and even if one is a “simple” blogger, then you should subject yourself to the truth, and to facts.

      As for the “wisdom of the crowd”, I’ve not seen hard science that could help find the signal amidst the noise. Last I heard, YouTube is trying to do so.