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Virality Uber Alles: What the Fetishization of Social Media Is Costing Us All

By Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post

Going viral has gone viral. Social media have become the obsession of the media. It’s all about social now: What are the latest social tools? How can a company increase its social reach? Are reporters devoting enough time to social? Less discussed — or not at all — is the value of the thing going viral. Doesn’t matter — as long as it’s social. And viral!

The media world’s fetishization of social media has reached idol-worshipping proportions. Media conference agendas are filled with panels devoted to social media and how to use social tools to amplify coverage, but you rarely see one discussing what that coverage should actually be about. As Wadah Khanfar, former Director General of Al Jazeera, told our editors when he visited our newsroom last week, “The lack of contextualization and prioritization in the U.S. media makes it harder to know what the most important story is at any given time.”

Our media culture is locked in the Perpetual Now, constantly chasing ephemeral scoops that last only seconds and that most often don’t matter in the first place, even for the brief moment that they’re “exclusive.” Like, for instance, the BREAKING NEWS!!! that Donald Trump was going to endorse a candidate for president last month. This was the jumping-off point for a great piece by HuffPost’s Michael Calderone about the effect that social media have had on 2012 campaign coverage. “In a media landscape replete with Twitter, Facebook, personal blogs and myriad other digital, broadcast and print sources,” he wrote, “nothing is too inconsequential to be made consequential. Political junkies, political operatives and political reporters consume most of this dross, and in this accelerated, 24/7 news cycle, a day feels like a week, with the afternoon’s agreed-upon media narrative getting turned on its head by the evening’s debate. Candidates rise, fall, and rise again, all choreographed to the rat-a-tat background noise of endless minutiae.”

Of course, as Calderone notes, there’s a “real disconnect” between the media, which are obsessed with the urgency of social-media-driven news, and the American people, who are actually “more concerned about the struggling economy and their livelihoods.” Or, as Dan Balz of the Washington Post put it to Calderone, “you feel you’re in this circular conversation with people who are slightly disconnected with the real America.” And that’s because the concerns of struggling Americans aren’t likely to be a trending topic.

At the same time, there is plenty of media commentary about how devoid of substance much of the political debate has been so far, but little effort to actually do something about it by helping start a more substantive debate. There’s no reason why the notion of the scoop can’t be recalibrated to mean not just letting us know 10 seconds before everybody else whom Donald Trump is going to endorse but also giving us more understanding, more clarity, a brighter spotlight on solutions.

Continue reading the rest of the story on The Huffington Post