Over the last week or so, I’ve turned my mind to the place of hierarchy within social networks and forms of ‘social media’ and what this means as these new forms of communication open up to more people.
The lie of democracy pretends that we all have an equal voice in terms of our vote when we are choosing our leaders. The reality is far from that. The loudness of the voice is determined by many other factors such as wealth, social standing, professional status, age, physical appearance and many other discriminations that run through every group that forms and society that is created around communities.
In some ways, ‘social media’ such as blogs, micro-blogs such as Twitter and sites such as Newsvine, Reddit, StumbleUpon and many like them have an undemocratic ‘feel’ to them. They allow anyone so the theory goes to become a ‘citizen journalist’ or rather a ‘citizen curator’ without needing to explain who they are and why they are qualified to do so.
More recently a few conversations I’ve been involved in (yes, on Twitter mostly) have highlighted the crossover between the importance of ‘status’ and the expectation that the same status should be accorded on these more open, more ‘democratic’ platforms.
This for me, is the rub of the ‘old’ against the ‘new’ and while we cannot disregard ‘real world’ influence in affording respect to particular views – in some ways, it is a parting of ways for the original mentality which ask people to be judged on the content and value of their words rather than the letters before or after their name.
There is no way to break down these barriers of status completely. Barack Obama will always have more followers on a social media site than John Smith, a school student from Little Hadbury and it is quite right too.
Perhaps though, we are losing something by disregarding the content and influence that John Smith could have if given the channel and voice to do so.
Some of the most precious insights I have gained from my brief dallying in social media forms has been particularly from users and carers of services that I provide as a social worker but also from social work students. Indeed (no offence intended) it is often students that can ‘teach’ more insights than professors because academics have louder ‘natural’ voices which are provided by the status that they are (quite rightly) accorded in the society in which we live in.
Various tools like Klout and its ilk are trying to establish ‘hierarchies’ onto these communication tools – indicating that some people are ‘better’ than others where the real value is more personal and unlikely to be provided by a logarithm.
My concern is that as the ‘real world’ hierarchy creeps across social networks is not that we should ignore them – of course not. It is a great way of sharing knowledge and understanding but more that we must not lose this opportunity to lose the naturally quieter voices. Indeed, we should seek them out and learn from them.
Human beings like categorising things – including ourselves. We need to know our own place in these hierarchies. Sometimes our perceptions of where we are on these hierarchies is different from where we might place ourselves but really, the most important thing is to listen to all who have voices – sometimes learning comes in the least expected places.
I’d be interested in the experiences of others with the changing hierarchies particularly within social networks? Are you seeing what I’m seeing? How do you interpret the changes that are being experienced by society?