De-skilled, politically inadvisable spam production (social media expertise)

Oakland Local is a fine web publication that feels to me like a small town weekly or biweekly newspaper, but a bit more worldly, and much, much less the social calendar/reporter and advertiser. But I think these differences can be attributed to locale and moreso era. I recommend checking out OL if you’re OL, and Oakland North too, which looks similar but feels a bit different, presumably because the latter is written by journalism students; they complement each other.

OL has put on a few discussions and parties that I haven’t gotten around to going to. I noticed that they were to hold a news cafe today. I failed to read the description, assuming a news cafe would involve discussion of stuff OL had reported on. Instead:

This second news cafe will focus on how people in Oakland use social media to get the word out about causes and events – with powerful results.

Oops. There’s not much that could interest me less than a socialmediaemergency. I didn’t pay much attention, instead focusing on working through my social mediamail. But I picked up on (or maybe just assumed; these things are certainly not new) two or so things that distress me:

  • I suspect most attendees (and the event was very well attended) are pretty far left. At least one of the panelists mentioned being arrested recently, I assume at an Occupy Oakland protest. The uncritical cheerleading of this crowd for “social media tools” controlled by the 1% (I’m dubious about that split, but I doubt folks getting arrested are) is bizarre. Do you really want “your” social media and graph the the mercy of services that will turn evil and/or moribund soon (show me one that has lasted), and even if there’s a short-term advantage to doing so, is it really politically acceptable?
  • “Social media” is treated as something that many of the gathered are “experts” in, and that organizations ought have strategies around. These propositions also seem slightly bizarre to me. Hundreds of millions of people use “social media” proficiently. There’s nothing remotely difficult about it. Would anyone proclaim themselves to be an “email expert”? Do not self-proclaimed social media experts realize they are the butts of so many jokes? But nevermind jokes — the idea of “social media expertise” seems a warning of some kind of de-skilling that will haunt. And the idea that “social media strategy” is worthy of being on the radar of organizations speaks to creeping PR-ification, non-authenticity, spam, and belief in voodoo. Microblog whatever announcements would’ve been made through other venues anyway and encourage staff and community to communicate whatever they’re doing and excited about via personal accounts. The end. More than that isn’t going to significantly improve fundraising or other actions you care about. Although the term “social media” has gotten ugly, remember that at least it isn’t “promotional media”.

To counter my complaints, I hope to see more political awareness around technology, more up-skilling, and much, much less belief in the goodness of spam, and more recognition thereof. Along these lines, I am happy with several of the things that Mozilla is doing, technically putting things in place to further decentralization, and helping everyone become web makers (up-skill) rather than web spammers (de-skill). There is vast opportunity to take all of these things local, and Oakland ought be ahead of that game.

To be clear, I’m not complaining about Oakland Local above. Actually I want to praise and thank them. As I said, the event was very well attended, very well executed, and people seemed really into it; that says a lot. It also accomplished much for me, not least getting this stored rant off my chest, and perhaps much more. I’m looking forward to other OL events, but I will make sure to read descriptions first. ☻

Addendum: Brief OL writeup of the event.

3 Responses

  1. Luis says:

    Hundreds of millions of people use “social media” proficiently. There’s nothing remotely difficult about it. Would anyone proclaim themselves to be an “email expert”?

    Hundreds of millions of people write, and yet we routinely (and correctly) bemoan the state of writing. We certainly have many millions of people who publish to social media proficiently, but I wouldn’t be so certain that there are millions who consume or distribute it proficiently. And I think that on reflection virtually everyone would agree that we’d probably be better off if we had more “email experts” who advised on higher-quality publication and consumption of email- you can certainly think of people who suck at email (writing good emails; reading and responding to emails efficiently; etc.)

    Not that I’m defending the current crop of self-proclaimed social media “experts,” but the idea of actual social media expertise shouldn’t be controversial.

  2. I wouldn’t deny some well-known distribution for any skill until demonstrated otherwise, including social media, though I’d bet on fatter tails for more substantial forms.

    I expect that people who would actually call themselves “email experts” professionally are direct marketers.

  3. [...] people tweet. As usual, I find this sort of exhortation and dedication of resources to social media scary. But what about journalists? How can we make the media [...]

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