In defense of Social Media

Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

In a semi-recent blog post on the Harvard Business Review, Umair Hacque of the Havas Media Lab lashed out at the social media “bubble.”  He calls social media “relationship inflation” and then proceeds to outline how it cheapens the word relationship and concludes that it promotes three cancers that are eating away at the web.  Now, I am not going to make any claims that Facebook and Twitter are going to save the world, but Hacque’s points are incomplete at best, and flat out wrong at worse.  He ignores potential benefits and heaps blame on social media for aspects of society that exist well outside of it.

First, I would like to tackle his straw man argument.  When he claims that social media is relationship inflation and devalues the word, Hacque is arguing against something that I have rarely heard.  If relationship was a word that was thrown around more in that realm, then he might have a case.  However, relationship is the word that he used in his piece.  Personally, I have never called any of my social media connections a “relationship” and I have never heard anyone that I know refer to their social media relationships either.

Next, let’s take a look at the three cancers that Hacque says social media is creating for the web:

1)  “People invest in low-quality content. Farmville ain’t exactly Casablanca.

2)  “Attention isn’t allocated efficiently; people discover less what they value than what everyone else likes”

3)  “Most damaging, is the ongoing weakening of the Internet as a force for good.”

The main problem here is that he has some disconnected Utopian view of the internet and remembers the good ole days (pre social media) as being much better than they actually were.  Of course Farmville ain’t Casablanca…NOTHING since Casablanca is Casablanca.  As for the next item, people basing their opinions off others, that would be what we call peer pressure – and I am fairly certain that it predates Twitter.  Finally, the weakening of the internet as a force of good statement is just a load of bull excrement.  From an intellectual standpoint, normal people now have semi-direct access to some of the brightest minds in the country and their thoughts through social media.  Pick a modern day author, philosopher, scientist, etc – odds are that they have some form of a social media presence.  From a social good perspective, one need only look at the Haiti donations that were widely spread through social media links.  Arguing that it is destroying the net as a force for good is using selective evidence.

None of this is to say that Hacque’s points are flat out wrong.  I freely admit that social media has produced a lot of crap, maybe even mostly crap.  But his points are staunchly incomplete.  Not only does he ignore the redeeming qualities and potential of social media, but he also neglects to see it as a reflection of society.  It is imperfect because we are imperfect.  If he thinks it is leading to a dumbing down of the net, does he have any idea how long porn has dominated cyberspace?  He calls social media “a distortion, a caricature of the real thing.”  For better or worse, it is as close to the real thing as you will find.  Many people are willing to open up their true selves more on social media than they will in person.  I challenge Hacque to look a little harder at his complaints and see if they aren’t really his prevailing complaints against people in general.