We the new media. The ongoing innovative disruption of social media in social space.
Speed and complexity
The history of mankind is unthinkable without technology. In the Internet age, where real time dominates over real space, web 2.0 and the rise of social media communication is another example of the exceptional ability of people to collectively communicate meanings and ideas. We tend to believe in the uniqueness of each era and its relationship with technology because the social changes resulting from innovation have always triggered changes in society. These changes not only support the conditions for technology to be created, but also change how interpersonal relationships are engaged (consider the telegraph to the telephone, the smart devices). One of substantive features of how technology is collectively experienced is the speed at which technology pushes communication with it being increasingly concentrated in shorter time waves.
These uninterrupted technological waves have been presented as a gradual extension of our senses, leading some early thinkers to note, “we have extended our central nervous system in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned” (McLuhan, 1964). This means that new media and technologies are transforming not only the “how” of communication, but the “meaning” of what is being communicated. This process of reorganization and expansion has broadened the collective interpersonal communication system, which has had an effect on the reconfiguration of social reality itself. Internet and its evolutions is the most disruptive contemporary social-technological phenomenon on interpersonal collective communication in history.
This recent evolution in communication contrasts to traditional and vertical mass media communication, which is becoming more limited and influential in its traditional function of synchronizing perceptions. The Internet allows for mass social media communication that also simultaneously provides for the emergence of micro-media (as opposed to mass-media). Any one with a simple technological tool (a mobile phone) with Internet access can be a real time broadcaster competing for reach and notoriety with the professional media. The old saying in journalism was that you could have the biggest scoop in the world, but if you don´t have a way to get it out, it remained the biggest secret in the world—now that notion is dead. Today everyone has a personal technology device to get out the big secret anytime, anywhere, and immediately making “journalists” of those with a device and connection. Additionally each of us in micro-media space can simultaneously be active and passive receivers, transmitters, and diffusers of information, rumors or symbolic meaning. These micro-media communications can be self-generated as well as from others including material from macro and micro media. As result the communication ecosystem thanks to technology forces the cohabitation of chaos and order, truth and lies, virtue and vice, news and rumors, the original and duplicate, voyeurism and exhibitionism without any trace of contradiction in a bold universe of inclusiveness.
We, the new media
It is in this space that the movement from “other” as media to “we” as media is coming about. For a long time the unidirectional communication media professionals controlled by elites pursued the symbolic and informational control of societies or large parts of that society. Mass media messages were the only game in town and they owned both the message and the means of communicating that message. Micro-media has the dual property of being both part of the medium as well as part of the message. Within a mass self-communication system, micro-media are able to extend messages from and to others (peers or professional media) through a multidirectional communication system. This system reflects individual (one to one) or social (one to many and many to many) interaction without the imposition of agenda setting from the larger professional media.
The figure below shows the new influence ecosystem model after the arise of Internet and how the professional media are forced into a involuntary cohabitation with micro-media. The traditional vertical influence system from mass communication oriented to mass synchronization of perceptions has been significantly disrupted by social media and the mass self-communication. Micro-media plays a significant part in the battle of social perceptions impacting beliefs and diffusing opinion.
The changes in interpersonal relationships, due to the emergence of Internet and social media has created a hybrid communication sphere; professional media and social media combined in a unique system, with offline and online contexts existing in the same social continuum. There are no social, methodological or ontological utility to maintaining a differentiation in the new hybrid social continuum space. The research place is not the research object, where things happen is less important than what is happening especially when we are looking for understanding at the intersection between society and technology as well as between human behavior and technological change.
This hybrid all-media space also creates a complex labyrinth of networks with connections that link people who share information, news, perceptions, beliefs, myths, rumors, etc. in a real-time, immense, networked communication system. In our society where interconnections are complex and growing the result is that everything, people, information, events, and places, are connected each forming relationships with the other to form a vast aggregate social network. In our work we drew on Social Network Theory (SNA) to provide a useful conceptual framework and robust set of methods for both understanding, analyzing, and representing the pattern of social networks interactions that surround individuals in the #commoncore Twitter´s opinion climate.
Making visible the invisible
As we have shown in this project the expanded social context of the Internet and social media through Twitter gives rise to social networks on any number of topics and social behaviors. Unlike the mass media, which is a professional communication tool, social media is a collective and interpersonal communication mechanism, which has created an unprecedented unique social continuum, where offline and online social interactions are individually and collectively, local and globally experienced in real time.
The complex relationship structures that emerge online, like #commoncore, as climates of opinion on organizations, media, individuals, companies, institutions, lobbies have not been fully charted given robust size of the data and as such can be typically best represented and studied through computer programs and visualizations of information. Through an innovative set of methods in this project we captured, mapped, and analyzed Twitter´s interactions as social networks in a depth and scale that has recently just become possible for the average citizen. This work makes the invisible forces of interaction visible and accessible to a wider audience.
The relational data captured from social media offers many new opportunities to understand communication practices in the social media space. In other words, new types of communication networks and new media exponentially increase our ability to address new complex social and communication problems and the rise of new kind of influencers. One such growing platform is Twitter.
Twitter is a free online global social network with no firmly defined business model, aside from a traditional advertisement paradigm, since its start that combines elements of blogging, text messaging and broadcasting. Although at the beginning was might seem arduous to communicate in a expressive mode using just 140 characters or less, Twitter users have uncovered ingenious ways to get the most out with different communication strategies that go far beyond the intended use of the original core features of Twitter.
From our research point of view, one of the most valuable aspects of Twitter is its evolving nature to be a sort of central nervous system of Internet, playing the roles in practice as a media of intersection of every social and professional media. Like any social space there will be individuals that are disproportionately influential on the system, these individuals can be thought of as opinion leaders.
Social Media Influencers
Opinion leaders tend to be identified as nodes for the diffusion of new ideas or behaviors based on the premise that once they have been properly identified, they may act as change agents. It is also possible to identify key nodes in networks to prevent the diffusion of errors or misbehaviors. The real existence of influence inequality can be explained not as a result of who we are, but rather to whom we are interconnected.
Social media influencers (SMIs) can be defined as a new type of independent players who shape audience attitudes through the use of social media channels (as micromedia) in competition and coexistence with professional media. Being able to accurately identify SMIs is critical no matter what is being transmitted in a social system. SMIs can be identified by their high-ranking position in a network as the most important or central nodes. Our work on the #commoncore presents a social media network analysis on Twitter around Common Core and the results reveal the existence of different typologies of SMIs elites (we named as transmitters, transcievers, and transcenders) interacting in a high complex information ecosystem of ideas, beliefs, from education professional until bipartisan positions. Finally we found analyzing Common Core opinion climate how social media are reactivating in a powerful way the link between citizens, social debates and politics.
The Common Core debate is an exemplar of the the ongoing innovative disruption of social media and how the traditional exclusivity of mass media is quickly becoming progressively outmoded, outdated, and outstripped by the rise of social media. The mass media creation and distribution of meaning, perceptions and beliefs reflecting the agenda of the elites is being challenged and refuted by the fast moving thumbs and fingers of all walks of life, the “we” enabled with ubiquitous devices, multiple points of contact and the “viralization” of news, ideas, or opinions. At the same time this new breed of social interaction offers the opportunity to reactivate the link between society and politics creating a potentially democratizing collective tool. We the new media.