Tuesday, February 27

Running With Rumors: Social Media

When you look at a social media tracking sites like Blogpulse, graph spikes tell part of the story: when she made the finals, after her first performance, and when both sets of photos (the real ones and the fake ones) were seeded by social media. Without question, social media (blogs, vlogs, message boards, and e-mail lists) is changing everything. Sometimes it's for the better. Sometimes it's not.

The best of it, as Anders Gronstedt, president of the Gronstedt Group, describes in the Communication World Bulletin (CW Bulletin), which is a members-only electronic publication available to members of the International Association of Business Communicators, is that "Phenomena like MySpace, Facebook, Second Life, Flickr and YouTube aren't just Web sites. They are platforms of collaboration, where sprawling and vibrant communities socialize, innovate, transact and learn."

The worst of it, as seen by the Barba case study, is inexperienced people wanting to attract attention and drive their "hits" up by perpetrating the hottest topic regardless of accuracy. In many cases, their posts are devoid of second tier research. In this case, that means they literally cut and paste the most recent post they found elsewhere (sometimes without reading, let alone thinking) and attempt to claim it as an original idea.

Why should they? For the most part, while some myth originators have faced prosecution, few myth reposters ever do. Oh well, they say, after posting or linking to the lewdest photos and passing judgement on someone who wasn't even in the shot. They are neither embarrassed nor apologetic for contributing to mass character assassination and sometimes blatant plagiarism.

As CNNMoney pointed out nearly a year ago (sourced from CW Bulletin): the new culture on the Web is all about consumer creation, composed of nearly 30 million blogs and 70 million photos (on Flickr alone). With a click of the mouse, anyone can be a journalist, a photographer, or a DJ. The audience is the 1 billion-plus strong.

Angelo Fernando, a marketing and communication manager at interactive marketing agency iCrossing (also in CW Bulletin), cautions business communicators that before they jump up and down about social media and the wonderfully transparent world it is creating, they might consider the consequences. "Leaky information, errant e-mails and inappropriate instant messages now have the capacity to become very, very public," he writes.

Based on the Barba story, they don't even have to be "real leaks" to attract attention; the first set of less revealing photographs was enough to erode her credibility, making room for the second set of fakes to take hold. And nowadays, as social media goes, so does traditional media. The Boston Herald proves this as its wire services story teases "More salacious Internet photos - purportedly of “American Idol” wannabe Antonella Barba - surfaced yesterday but spokespeople for the FOX mega-hit reality show continued to remain mum on her fate."

"The new pictures depict a woman, alleged to be the brunette Jersey girl, posing partially nude on a World War II veterans’ memorial. Hardcore porn pictures of a woman - purportedly Barba - engaged in a sex act were also posted on the Web but a friend swears they aren’t the reality-show contestant," continued the story. I don't know about you, but this reads to me as if the Boston Herald has planted enough bias in this article to call her guilty.

Indeed, it's a sad day when traditional media no longer bothers to check sources or invest in its own research, driving home the point that the lewdest photos are "purportedly Barba" while a much fewer number of bloggers have already established, well beyond a reasonable doubt, that the girl in the pornographic images is NOT Barba. Ho hum. It's the not the first time, and it won't be the last.

Barba is in an especially difficult position because under American Idol rules, she cannot defend herself by addressing the media (traditional or otherwise) until she is ousted. Some viewers don't seem to care, citing that she is hardly the best singer and not very likely to win. But then again, they dismiss that no one would believe Taylor Hicks would go on to win in season 5 based on his early shows. In fact, based on album sales, Chris Daughtry looks like the winner despite who ultimately wore the American Idol crown.

Sure, Barba can partially blame herself for not realizing there is no such thing as a private conservation or photo shoot for that matter. This is doubly true today, given that America has seemingly been taken in again by yellow journalism. But, despite Barba setting the stage with typical college pics, the rest of the responsibility belongs to bad reporting — social and traditional media alike.

Does this mean I'm no longer embracing social media? Not hardly. I just hope we can get past the growing pains and focus on the best of it. I hope social media is not the beginning of the end for corporate transparency, leading to a world where companies have cause to spy on employees for fear of self-preservation.

I hope traditional media might consider that it will continue to erode its already jeopardized credibility unless they stop reacting to social media and stick to their primary job of finding the truth (because someone has got to do it). And I hope that public relations professionals will pick up the pace to address the major communication shortfall with social media. The very idea that they continue to source numbers from a year-old CNNMoney story, tells me they are still catching up.

Maybe at the end of the day, all I'm really asking is if we want our Internet future to be Star Trek or Escape From New York.



Rich on 2/28/07, 8:35 AM said...

Famous Last Words:

"This can happen to anybody, and it is happening every day. I'm not sure if the message is getting through that this is an entirely different age, there is no privacy, and you can be destroyed in the blink of an eye." — Bill O'Reilly, who opined that the Internet, while a fantastic tool, also has the power to ruin reputations and lives.

"You're right, Bill, this is very scary stuff. And this tends to happen to people who put themselves in positions that are more compromising. We have to do is be very thoughtful about the people we hang out with, where we go, and what we do with our bodies." — Psychologist Debra Mandel who appeared as a guest on the show.

I usually like Bill O'Reilly, but he missed two points: the media, himself included, have been doing what social media is now doing for years; and his show also did not dispute the lewdest photos as fakes, instead using the inaccurate "sex photo" hype to attract viewers.

Is it any wonder why citizen journalists go wrong? They've learned some bad habits from traditional media.


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