Does New Media Make Us As Powerful As We Think It Does?

I followed a twitter link to Unveiling the New Influencers from the PR2.0 blog. It was the usual (well, better than usual) ‘social media’ empowers us post. But the caveat offered in the comments highly interested me (quoted in entirety below).

I think that new social media does empower many of us in ways that were not imagined previous to the explosion of blogs, and twitter, etc. Yet, I also agree that once the main power brokers negotiated the ways to manipulate these forms of communication, things have not changed so much as they appear.

That is not a complaint, by the way. Not complaining because more empowerment of individuals and freedom to speak is always a benefit, and not to be scoffed at (not that I think anyone is doing that, just saying). Blogging has changed, as one person observes,”do you spend an hour reading an in-depth piece on the Net? Not a chance, this kind of type and display is really hard to read (which is why Net articles are now really, really short).” We are no longer looking so much for information with which to do critical thinking as short bytes of commentary on what the guys at, say, NYT present to us. Two steps forward and one step back, you might call that.

Read Lelia Thomas’ comment and tell me what you think.

Lelia Thomas:

As much as I agree with the ideals of posts like these, I think one is choosing to be ignorant if he or she actually believes consumers have changed the world through social media, or that communication is really as open as this post suggests. We have certainly altered the world. There is no question of that. That is how a free market economy works (and most of us in OECD nations have at least some small form of that, though we all have a fair bit of Keynesian economics at work, too).

What we experience today is most certainly more democratized, personalized and customized; however, the most-visited news sites on the web, at least in English-speaking OECD nations, are owned by the same companies that have existed for decades, some even before the foundations of the Internet were laid in the 60s. If our information economy was truly democratized, I could mention citizen journalists and citizen journalist websites, indie musicans and artists, and people would know what or who I’m talking about. However, at age 22, most of the people even in my demographic are largely unaware of what exists outside of the main players and their products (for news or otherwise). This is clearly evident, as well, when one looks at the top-followed users on sites like Twitter.

The conversations we have on the web largely influence us and our feelings about each other, but the influence we have on powerful conglomerates, which undeniably and unfortunately dictate much of what even becomes law, is negligible. If it weren’t, we would not have groups like the RIAA suing the pants off of people at the tune of $80,000 to $150,000 per illegally downloaded song, flying in the face of all just processes. No matter one’s opinion about filesharing, most would agree that the results of these trials are not fair, and most have been vocal about that…and yet the law stays the same, because our voices, online, off, etc. are not as powerful as the lobbying men and women in Washington.

My point is that a lot of these services are indeed great, but I sometimes wonder how much they just placate us, leading many to believe that we have a lot more control than we really do. I would definitely say that of all the services that have come out to date, Twitter comes the closest to decentralizing and liberating everything. I love that. We have a long way to go, though. Companies may be listening, but most often it’s only halfheartedly. Surely most of us, as consumers, are aware of this.

One way, that homeschoolers and then later the political campaign machine of President Obama, people have utilized the power of these new media forms is in what I heard called “the lightning fast” alert and delivery system of massing opinion quickly to put pressure on a political concern. That is still one application of these means to increase individual power and say. But just as marketers have quickly caught on and spread their message virally, so too, the political institution will be as savvy at mimicking the independent voice of the common man. And it will be “the Man” again. Until then, blog on… and twitter freely.

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