The Demise Of Social Media And The Return Of Mass Media

There have been quite a few studies lately on what people Tweet and post on Facebook, and the large number of links that people share. Invariably, the links that most people share belong to large media organizations — what used to be called mass-media.

For example, Nate Silver recently analyzed links to news sources and found that of the top 30 news sources, nearly all were traditional large news sites such as AP or New York Times, only TMZ and Politico were new.

A recent Yahoo! Research report found just 20,000 elite Twitter users produce 50% of Tweets (Twitter has 150 m users). Sounds very mass-media like to me, I bet 10,000 of those users are journalists Tweeting about their stories.

[Study Shows How Social Media Amplifies Mass Media - SVW]

Yet we seem to have convinced ourselves that we are living in the age of “social media” where citizen journalists are producing tons of great content and upsetting the balance of power in the media world.

Where? I don’t see it.

I see a world of mass media where a few large media brands still control most of the media output and thus the conversation around the topics that they choose.

Where is the social media?

For example, in my sector Techcrunch, GigaOM, VentureBeat, ReadWriteWeb, etc, are media organizations with publishers and editors and all the infrastructure of any traditional news publication. Long gone is the time when you could describe them as “blogs” — they are no different than any other media company.

Where is the social media?

Very few people write blogs or produce any type of media these days, people seem to prefer clicking a “like” button, or retweeting someone else’s content.

It would be more accurate to describe this as social distribution of media – it most definitely is not social media.

Even Twitter founders such as Biz Stone say Twitter is more about consuming media via shared links rather than people creating original content in the form of Tweets.

And on Facebook I see a lot of mass media links in what my network shares and very little that could be described as social media.

People are behaving like an online newspaper delivery boy. That’s not as compelling as the original promise of social media, and its implied challenge to the powerful owners of mass media. Weren’t we, the people, back in charge through social media? Hadn’t we done away with the “gate keepers” of mass media?

It certainly doesn’t look that way.

So, shouldn’t we retire the term social media?

We should call it what it has now become: social distribution of (mass) media.

It’s a sad end to a promising start of what could have become a new era in media.

[Cross-posted at Silicon Valley Watcher]

About Tom Foremski

Tom Foremski is a former Financial Times journalist. He has been covering Silicon Valley since his arrival from London in 1984. In May 2004 he became the first journalist to leave a major newspaper to make a living as a journalist blogger, publishing Silicon Valley Watcher - reporting on the business and culture of innovation. Tom’s understanding of diverse technologies and his access to global business leaders, make him one of the most prominent media influencers in the technology world.