Thursday, August 29, 2013

Social Media: When ‘buzz’ becomes deafening

This is a tough blog post. There’s no two ways about it, it’s going to be tough to construct without sounding egotistical or like I’m stating the painfully obvious, I will almost definitely sound like both so enjoy that. But it’s important to reiterate this point every time this kind of ‘buzz’ takes over twitter, well at least somebody should don’t worry I won’t be nagging on about this every few weeks. It’s about how a big story eclipses others and in some cases even prevents content coming from hotspots across the globe. This is common with news channels, it always has been, and to some extent is fair enough. But what becomes fascinating more than shocking is that social media reacts in a similar way with an almost equal balance.

The story that has dominated international news over the past week, and rightly so, is the alleged ‘chemical weapons’ attack by the Assad government on a suburb just outside of Damascus. Anti-Assad activists and rebels from the region state it killed thousands while the government claims it is fictitious, nations across the world say something must be done. News organisations are being overwhelmed with the sheer amount footage flooding in from the region, new death tolls, and new tales of the horrors from Damascus but they aren’t the only ones. 

The reaction from social media, specifically Twitter and YouTube, has been deafening. It has been so loud that news topics that have been consistently hot seem to almost fade into the background. In Egypt, for instance, the Muslim Brotherhood continued their promised week long of daily mass protests and yet footage and photos have became significantly harder to unearth. This is probably because some of the most prominent tweeters and bloggers from the area have found themselves caught up in the reporting of the ‘chemical attack’ and news from Egypt is being put on the back burner in order to compensate for this. This collection of bloggers, activists, and journalists not only highlight important content but are the people posting it! By switching focus we could lose incredible footage or photos in the chaos. 

These ‘explosions’ happen occasionally but not too frequently. This may seem hard to believe of late, the crisis in Egypt, the transport tragedies of the past months, the Beirut explosion, seem to indicate they happen everyday. They don’t. How could the earth possibly cope? This is why the event of a ‘social media explosion’ has such an impact on the amount of attention paid to not only it’s specific area but others as well.

The thing isn’t, or at least isn’t just, the buzz or the trending temporarily overpowering other important stories that is the problem but temporary deafening that follows an explosion of tweets. Similar to a real explosion it unable to hear other noises afterwards but the effect is exaggerated when listening to news, so much so that you sometimes block out the ‘lesser’ sounds from social media until the next eruption. This is sadly typical protocol in Syria and becoming so in Egypt. People die daily, at first this this is new, it’s ‘fresh’, and a lot videos from the region on YouTube get thousands upon thousands of views. Then something big happens and we can no longer hear the daily issues that continue afterwards, that is, until the next ‘Chemical attack’. At 4 o’clock yesterday this is what the trending looked like:

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'Syria' and 'Damascus' are, of course, huge but the extreme amount of buzz it takes to get trending globally can tire a subject out after just a few hours.

A few hours later we are down to just Syria trending:

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As all things it wears off and soon the flow of videos and photos of fires and smaller explosions and protests continue but the fascinating thing is that the people we expect not to be taken up by one big event, the activists and bloggers based in other hotspots, are caught up in it and ignore, sometimes literal, explosions down the road. 

When we miss, can’t find or start deeming stories irrelevant because of it’s happening during a massive downpour of content on Twitter or Facebook or YouTube that’s the real moment when social media becomes deafening. 

This blog, despite my attempts, has probably come across as what I originally feared, obvious and arrogant, but what it’s highlighting more than anything is how mostly unregulated social media has become a news entity in itself and reacts in the same way as an extremely regulated news desk. Sure it’s a little rough around the edges and the information isn’t as reliable but just as information is reported in news stations so it is being, more and more so, on social media.