It’s human nature to dislike, even hate, what we fear and to fear that which is foreign to us. These drivers underpin many of the entrenched prejudices that exist in this world, to humanity’s great shame and dismay. Prejudice and its implications can occur on a grand scale or at the micro level. The most profound cast a shadow over people’s gender, sexuality, colour and religion.
At the micro level it may be the cut of your suit, the ink on your skin or even the way you speak that fans the embers of ignorance into the flames of prejudice. While these biases are nothing compared to the ones mentioned above, they still exist and should be challenged.
Well, at least that’s what we always say about prejudice – that it should be challenged. Perhaps it’s more a matter of deconstructing prejudice through personal experience. Attitudes are very hard to shift, but they can be altered with knowledge gained through first hand experience. There are many (but clearly not enough) examples of people relinquishing their prejudices once the unknown becomes the personally known, either through a friend or relative coming out, or by getting to know someone of a different colour or religion.
It’s the micro level of prejudice that I’ve pondered since attending the Media140 social media conference last month. Quite a number of mainstream media journalists participated in panel discussions and I was struck by the disdainful way several referred to social media platforms. One explained that they didn’t often tweet but monitored the Twitter stream to plunder it for stories. Another said they used Twitter mostly to publicise their own stories. At one point in the discussion, Facebook was summarily dismissed as being the place where you post your holiday snaps to satisfy the extended family.
It occurred to me then that many working journalists just don’t get social media and it may be for this reason that they’ve formed negative attitudes toward it. Apart from the few journalists who actively blog and engage in conversations on Twitter, it seems that many mainstream journalists see social media as a fad, but nevertheless a potential threat in the identification and reporting of news. I’m not suggesting they’re luddites, but that their unwillingness to personally experience these online phenomena has created a negatively biased perception.
I suppose I could challenge this prejudice by saying that the world has changed and people are no longer using the old ways to shop, talk, promote, research, learn, share, celebrate or mourn. I could show how models for business, advocacy and information exchange are constantly mutating in an effort to keep pace. Or even point to the fact that 54% of Fortune 100 companies have a presence on Twitter and 29% are on Facebook.
I could challenge the prejudice by showing that Australians in particular have embraced social media; that 70% of all Australian internet users visit social networking sites, and we also spend more time on these sites than our overseas online colleagues.
I could point to Facebook as another case in point. It’s not just a place for happy snaps but inhabited and regularly used not only by individuals but hundreds of thousands of businesses. Facebook has 500 million members who spend over 500 billion minutes per month on Facebook pages. Over 9 million people on Facebook are Australians, and these are not just kids sharing fart jokes or embarrassing photos; 43.4% of all Australians on Facebook are aged 26 to 44. The communities that exist on Facebook are a marketer’s dream. Any kind of demographic or interest group can be reached cheaply and on a targeted basis using Facebook ads. Facebook is also used by NGOs, advocates, companies and individuals to build communities of support or loyal customer followings that would otherwise be impossible to create or maintain.
Sadly, any challenge would not be enough. There is no way to understand social media platforms “in theory”. Understanding can only be gained through direct experience. Mainstream journalists will never get Twitter until they actively join one of the many communities that exist in the Twitterverse. They can’t just monitor the Twitter stream or broadcast into it but truly engage in conversations as they would with friends at the pub or a dinner party to understand the dynamics and attraction of this medium. Twitter is not just about politics either; its communities are numerous and incredibly diverse. For my part, I participate in Twitter communities that are interested in politics, social media, science fiction on TV and in films, fashion and rugby league.
The reality is that social media is not a fad, it won’t fade away and its influence on the corporate, policy and political worlds will grow even more with time. Mainstream media journalists would know this, and perhaps even accept it, if they engaged fully with social media platforms and joined with the rest of us in exploring their seemingly limitless potential for information, creativity, relationships and dialogue.
This post appeared on ABC’s The Drum – Unleashed