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Who Can We Really Trust?

Justin Bieber had<a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/08/showbiz/music/justin-bieber-2013/index.html'> a rough 2013</a>, and 2014 doesn't appear to be shaping up much better. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers searched an airplane -- thought to be the one pictured -- carrying Bieber and others on January 31, at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Officers said they detected an odor of what seemed like marijuana after the plane landed, law enforcement sources told CNN. It's just the latest development in a series of troubles for the pop star.

Photo Caption (photo and caption from CNN website): Justin Bieber had a rough 2013, and 2014 doesn’t appear to be shaping up much better. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers searched an airplane — thought to be the one pictured — carrying Bieber and others on January 31, at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Officers said they detected an odor of what seemed like marijuana after the plane landed, law enforcement sources told CNN. It’s just the latest development in a series of troubles for the pop star.

Media (and social media especially) has taken over our lives with such a strong force that we are now using it for everything from promotion to gossip, and sports to entertainment.  With this entire information overload, it’s sometimes difficult to determine which source is the best to use.  Facebook provides news feeds, detailed profile pages and like buttons. Twitter gives short informational bits with articles, pictures, quotes and hashtags. Instagram chooses to focus primarily on images and more recently, short video clips. Of course, there are countless others, but these are just some of the heavy hitters.  But what happens when these news sources, social media sites and collective online sources become too convoluted to sift through the diamonds from the useless rocks?

These media forms can take a life of their own, but they’re truly nothing without the people that use them. This is the point that Jaron Lanier makes in his article, “Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism”.  Although his harsh rant (“The hive mind is for the most part stupid and boring”) is reserved primarily for Wikipedia, it’s easily transferrable to other platforms. How many times have people used home remedies or political commentary found online as trusted sources, only to be misled? Don’t all raise your hands at once. I’ve been a victim of this as well.  Trusted sources such as CNN and The New York Times are even beginning to add more “fluff” and less substance lately to keep the attention of the masses. By the masses I mean the general public whose attention span is shorter than the average Superbowl commercial.

Just today, CNN released an article with the headline, “Justin Bieber Jail Video to Be Released with His Private Parts Blurred”. There’s something to be said for lighthearted news. It’s funny, intriguing and someone has to do it. But is CNN really the source for it? I would expect an article like this to be reported on Huffington Post’s website, but not CNN. I don’t understand how Justin Bieber’s jail release is so newsworthy from such a historically trusted news source. Lanier makes no secret about his frustration with another trusted news source, The New York Times. He criticizes them for publishing “op-ed pieces supporting the pseudo-idea of intelligent design”. Again, the issue here isn’t so much on what’s being reported, but who is reporting it.

Even music, something that should be purely for entertainment purposes in some regards, is being reported incorrectly.  I would have to agree with Lanier’s opinion though that many of the most influential artists in pop music would probably not have made it on the musical rite of passage that is American Idol.  Lanier states that, “John Lennon wouldn’t have won. He wouldn’t have even made it to the finals. Or if he had, he would have ended up a different sort of person and artist”. Today I browsed Wikipedia about one of my favorite groups, TLC. Their page lists that they’ve won 5 Grammy Awards, when they’ve actually won 4. How do I know this? Well, not just because I’m a semi obsessed fan, but because it’s pretty much common knowledge that songwriting categories are awarded to the songwriters and not the artist. The group was listed as the winner of Best R & B Song for “No Scrubs”, a song the group performed, but did not write. This seems like it would have been a no brainer, but apparently someone cited it as a factual statement.

So where do we go from here? Are there enough people out there to decipher between what’s valid and what’s of no substance in the media and social media universe? Absolutely. The scary part, which I believe Lanier is stating, is that the lines are becoming more and more blurred. Some of our parents may believe that Wikipedia is just as good as an Encyclopedia. That’s when we have to step in as the techne mentors and educate them that it’s not as valid as they may think. Hopefully, the lines of distinction between trusted and invalid news bits become more prevalent in the years to come, and less murky.

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Show Us Your Face

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*Author screen shot photo from personal Twitter page*

Social media has really made an increased presence over the last 10 years. Do I have any detailed statistical data to back this up? No, but it doesn’t take rocket science to see the ever growing trend that social media has. Award shows now even have hash tag votes that engage the viewers and make them feel apart of the experiences. Many restaurants and even department stores now give discounts if you “Like” their Facebook page or mention them in a tweet. Even down to the very degree program of EMAC, which cleverly intertwines in depth reading, application and analysis of social media behavior. I believe for scenarios such as this, SNSs are a wonderful thing. For instance, the Nutrition Hut, I shop that I frequent for breakfast, gives discounts if you check in on Facebook to their page. I’m not a fan of letting the whole social media stratosphere know where I am and what I’m doing. But in this case, I don’t hesitate. Why? Because there’s something in it for me? I save money and they get more promotion for their business. It’s a clear win win. But when do the use of SNSs become the poster child for something they weren’t intended for?

Too often we see people using social media to post half naked selfies, start twitter arguments or make discriminatory comments. What do these things all have in common? In the safe environment of the SNS world, it’s really ok to say what you feel, without thinking of repercussions, because technically no one us actually “seeing” you do anything. They’re looking at a representation of you through text, picture or video. Could this perhaps be the reason why most people use sites such as Facebook to “articulate previously established relationships than to meet strangers”? In A Networked Self, Zizi Papacharissi shows that people typically use SNSs to be reacquainted with old friends or colleagues, not to meet new people. Papacharissi also brings up the interesting point that married people and people in relationships tend to use social media more than their single counterparts. Based on the idea that you may overlap friend or associate pools with your significant other, this makes sense. It’s a broader sense of networked publics, as danah boyd defines as the space constructed through networked technologies and the imagined collective that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology and practice. The more intersections you have, the more chances there are for “imagined communities” that we either include or exclude others from, as Benedict Anderson suggests. We feel more comfortable to say and do what we want on social media, partly because we are already familiar with the audience.

We have become so attached to social media that we feel naked without it. As this Tuesday ends my one week fast from Facebook, I had to constantly remind myself not to respond to messages or wall posts. Even if there were not messages or posts from anyone, I just wanted to be free to browse my home page when I felt bored. Ironically, the fast started on my birthday which made it even harder! How was I supposed to show my gratitude for the people who wished me a happy birthday!? Only 8 people actually called me on my birthday. Could we be damaging the intent of Facebook and other such sites as a communicative cop out to show we’re thinking of someone by virtually messaging, re-tweeting, poking, or writing on their wall? While I believe that we should all use SNSs to our advantage, we should not use them to hide our true beings or a free ticket to be openly disrespectful. Perhaps we will be better off if we remember to keep the three dynamics in mind as mentioned in Chapter 4 (p.49) of A Networked Self: Invisible audiences (all audiences aren’t necessarily present or absent online), Collapsed contexts (difficulty to keep social contexts from lack of spacial, social, and temporal boundaries) and The blurring of public and private (the difficulty to maintain each as distinct).

Here’s an interesting dialogue about the effects of overuse of social media with author and columnist Margie Warrell