In This Time Of Techlash, It's Important To Remember That Sometimes Social Media Is Actually Good

from the quite-often-in-fact dept

It feels like pretty much every day there’s some sort of new “techlash” story, about how awful social media is, about how it’s dragging down democracy, destroying lives, and that we’d all be better off without it. We’ve been arguing for quite some time now that while there are real issues of concern about social media, most of the narrative is exaggerated to downright misleading. So it’s actually surprising, but nice, to see the NY Times (which has been among the most vocal cheerleaders of the “internet is bad” narrative) have an excellent opinion piece by Sarah Jackson outlining how Twitter, in particular, has “made us better.”

Jackson has recently co-authored a book, #HashtagActivism that details what a wonder Twitter has been for traditionally marginalized groups. It has allowed them to communicate, to organize, and to bring their messages into the mainstream.

We found that movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, while they had pre-Twitter origins, were pushed into mainstream consciousness by networks of ordinary people sharing firsthand stories, making demands and developing shared political narratives on the site. Without Twitter, these campaigns for race and gender justice would still exist, but they wouldn?t have nearly the same momentum.

The short op-ed highlights numerous stories that likely would not have received the attention they did without Twitter. Indeed, despite all the people who mock the “internet utopians,” it certainly looks like the idea of tearing down gatekeepers and giving a voice to all were ideas that worked for many communities:

Twitter users have disrupted a media landscape where gatekeepers ? in an industry that has always fallen short when it comes to race and gender diversity ? were for too long solely responsible for setting the agenda of what we talked about as a country. While most Americans do not have Twitter accounts, journalists and politicians often do, and they have turned heavily in the past decade to the activists, scholars and people of color on Twitter to inform their coverage and policies. When they haven?t done so, these communities have responded resoundingly online. And America has listened.

Twitter has fundamentally altered the ways many communities interact with the media, as users feel empowered to challenge harmful framing. ?I think the presence of Asian-Americans on Twitter has actually really showed journalists, editors and people in general in the newsroom how it is important to cover Asian-American issues,? one user told my colleagues and me in an interview for a report published by the Knight Foundation. ?With Twitter, you can call out a publication if they mess up, or if they don?t cover certain topics. Now there?s accountability.?

Yes, the same tools can (and sometimes are) abused, but the point we keep trying to make here is that we shouldn’t throw out the tools that do so much good just because sometimes they are abused. It’s nice to see at least some acknowledging this.

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Comments on “In This Time Of Techlash, It's Important To Remember That Sometimes Social Media Is Actually Good”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Every tool has two sides.

A shield defends.
A gun doesn’t defend it can only attack.

As demonstrated by history, a shield is only useful when coupled with an offensive weapon, and/or used against projectiles while closing for an attack. If you only have a shield, an attacker can close to where they can reach round it with a weapon, or move it out of their way.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Every tool has two sides.

"As demonstrated by history, a shield is only useful when coupled with an offensive weapon, and/or used against projectiles while closing for an attack."

err. Actually, history shows something completely different. Shields are, essentially, hefty implements of war with the side benefit of being wide enough to parry blows and catch arrows.

Their main drawback is range and penetration. But you can say that about a mace or sword as well in an age where the cheapest and easiest weapon to arm yourself with was a boarspear.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Has Mike done lost his mind? Social Media is never good. I guess good old Mike Masnick believes that it’s okay for these Social Media sites, which are all liberal, for engaging in censorship and violation of free speech rights under the constitution.

For a website like Techdirt to claim to fight for fair copyright use, free speech and freedom from illegal searches that I guess now Mike Masnick support censorship and violating the free speech rights of anyone who doesn’t agree with him.

Twitter, Facebook and many other services routinely ban conservatives whenever Cancel Culture screams "racist" without proof. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Paypal and many online services routinely engage in Censorship and violation of everyone’s free speech under the U.S. Constitution.

Perhaps Mike and Techdirt should fight for everyone’s rights, not just people and organizations that agree with you.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


Social media companies aren’t “liberal”. At best, they’re centrist. Why else would they bend over backwards to please and appease pissed-off conservatives whenever they toss their ire at social media companies? And last I heard, Mastodon had a recent influx of users from India and Spain because Twitter had banned leftist voices from those countries.

Also: someone being banned from or shadowbanned on a social media site doesn’t deprive them of any First Amendment rights. Twitter can ban you from Twitter, but it can’t ban you from Facebook or a Mastodon instance. And such a ban doesn’t count as censorship, either. Twitter can’t stop you from reposting elsewhere speech that you first posted on Twitter.

Oh, and one more thing: Even if you could prove a political bias from a social media company, that doesn’t mean shit. Twitter isn’t legally, morally, or ethically obligated to be “neutral” towards political speech. It could ban right-wing bullshit right now and you’d have no legal recourse because Twitter isn’t a public utility or a publicly-owned business.

You want a non-leftist social media experience? Gab is still open. I suggest going there.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Stephen, the "P****d off Conservatives" are actually right wing nut jobs pretending to be conservative. Their favourite thing is whingeing about bias for those outlets that don’t slavishly repeat what they say without question. They’re not worth taking seriously. I just file them under "Liars" and leave them to it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"Or on some cases, between them."

How so? The facts are not in question here.

Lowering taxes … for the rich but increasing them on the not rich
Smaller government … only when the other guys are in office

But you see pointing out their hypocrisy as kissing ass – this is expected from the so called conservatives that are not conservative at all, they are radicalized and out there on a ledge willing to take us all with them.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Never mind that, the premise that Techdirt only fights for the rights of "people and organizations that agree with" them is absurd and trivially disproven.

Techdirt routinely stands up for the rights of everyone from paparazzi to heroin dealers. They’ve criticized both Trump and AOC for blocking Twitter accounts. Christ, just in the past five minutes they put up a post that concerns an overbroad revenge porn law being overturned.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"But those aren’t the rights the AC wants fought for."

Given the gist of the AC’s message I think we have an inkling who’s behind it. If it looks like bobmail and smells like Bobmail, then pot odds are good it’s that lamentable sack of horse shit we all know as the poster-formerly-known-as-out-of-the-blue. Or Jhon.

In which case we know what he wants. Anyone who contradicts him hauled off in chains while the big bad internet goes away in favor of tried-and-proven 18th century technology where human rights and mass communications aren’t a thing anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I agree that the concept of social media does not inherently have a moral alignment.

However I would argue that some social media companies may have stains on their past (and people wouldn’t be totally paranoid to wonder what else they have in their closets). But that’s not really unique to social media (or even companies… it’s kinda a human thing).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

When looking at something that "is neither good or bad, but can be used for both", the only real criterion is to look at how it’s used. Is it used more for good, or for bad, and by how much?

By this measure, social media is a plague on society; what little good it does is massively outweighed by the harms it causes. It’s not that it does no good; it’s that the good it does is irrelevant in the face of the overwhelming weight of evil it enables.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Social media is not the cause of the bad, people are the cause of the bad, and will organize to do bad things by whatever means are available. Just look at all the genocides that have happened in Africa despite poor communication systems.

Blaming the tool is a way of no facing the reality that some people are bad, and a lot are easily led by bad people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Social media can be used by anyone, of any race,or minority,
tv networks make program,s for mass appeal,
also many of the creators are white, male, middle class ,so the art created tends to limited to a certain view point .
Also tv tends to be slanted towards big corporations and companys ,thats where most of their income ,advertising comes many forums and websites give voice to diverse communitys that would be too small or
too political to appeal to mass media .

Yes social media can be used for fake news or to spread extreme opinions .
when everyone has a voice some of those people will be stupid,ignorant
or racist .

Anonymous Coward says:

Techlash Astroturfed

I try to be mindful of my own biases and bubbles but the whole "Techlash" feels very artificial and suspiciously targetted. You are telling me that the repeated most hated Company in America winner Comcast isn’t on the list?

That throughly ignorant definition of "Monopoly" and the stream of hit pieces make it hard for me to take seriously as #walkaway where Republicians and Russians claim to be leaving the Democratic party over it not being bigotted enough.

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