Social technologies are any sort of media platform that allows the spread of information through technological outlets. This includes websites, blogs, video sites, social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, podcasts, etc. (Paletz, 2014). We are currently living in a world where information is constantly available and we can be ‘social’ without ever leaving the house. Social technologies are vastly different from more traditional media as they allow literally anyone with access to a phone, tablet, or computer to share whatever information they please with the world.
More traditional media includes television, radio, magazines, and newspapers. In the past, these were the main media sources people looked to for information. These traditional forms of media are similar to social technologies in the sense that they spread information through the use of words, images, or videos. However, traditional media was limited to professionals and not just anyone could jump on the radio or television and start talking. Sources were checked and only those who controlled these media platforms had the ability to share information over them. Social technologies are a completely different form of media as there are absolutely no qualifications required to jump on social media and voice your opinion. This allows for a plethora of information and opinions to be readily available.
The media has always played a large role in the political process but as social technologies have become more widespread, they are taking the front seat to other forms of media. While traditional forms of media were limited in the information that could be shared with the public, social technologies are not. Social technologies have made far more information about political process not only available to the public but easily accessible for anyone with internet access. For example, wikileaks.org is an entire website dedicated to exposing information that the government and other influential corporations are trying to keep a secret (Paletz, 2014). This has caused quite a bit of controversy and feelings of mistrust among citizens in regards to the motives of the government. This can also stir up controversy during elections and other tense political happenings.
Social technologies also allow for narrowcasting of political information while traditional media relied on broadcasting. Narrowcasting means that the media can aim at more the exact audiences that they are hoping to reach rather than just putting information out there for the general public to see (Paletz, 2014). For example, there are no entire channels on television and the radio dedicated to specific groups of people. You have BET (Black Entertainment Television), CMT (Country Music Television), etc. Radio now works the exact same way, there are radio stations dedicated to rap music, country music, new stations, etc. When radio first became popular, there were just a few stations available that everyone no matter what their demographic was, was listening to. Social media platforms take narrowcasting to an even greater extent. On Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even Youtube, people ‘follow’ the pages and the people that they want to get information from. This allows people to reach the exact audience they hope to reach and they can gather detailed information about that audience down to each individual’s name. This can come in handy throughout political process.
During political process and especially at election time, narrowcasting can be extremely beneficial in reaching potential voters. Social technologies have made it possible to access detailed information about people and that information can be advantageous. Recently, people were shocked to find out that Facebook had used people’s profiles to predict what political party they affiliated with. This prediction was based off of what people ‘liked,’ who they followed or associated with, what their posts consisted of, etc. This capability makes it possible for politicians to target those people and they can even have their campaign ads show up directly on their page. The vast majority of politicians would gladly take advantage of this targeted campaigning.
Social technologies are also different from traditional media in the sense that they allow for the creation of content while traditional media was simply reprocessing content (Paletz, 2014). In the past, media outlets were mostly reporting information that was created by someone else. For example, a reporter would go to a political rally and then take the information they gathered to the media. With social technologies, people can create their own content without ever retrieving information from a primary source. Anyone can post anything, it doesn’t matter if they have absolutely no credentials or if the information is completely false. This ability has changed everything as is the past only professional media outlets had the ability to share information. Now, everyone can and will spread their opinions.
Social technologies have created a plethora of opportunities for political participation. As previously stated, anyone with internet access can voice their opinions for the world to see. If people are not able to attend political events, they can stream them on the internet and quickly access everything they need to know. They can share their views with others and create discussions about current events and political issues. Although much of what is shared by the general public on social media has little to no effect on political issues, it makes people feel as if they have a voice and as if they are being heard, even if it is just by their friends and family.
Social technologies also allow politicians to actively engage with the public and participate in discussions revolving around their career and decisions. It is almost expected of politicians to have some form of social media, even Donald Trump has a Twitter. This can create a sense of community and makes those involved in politics seem more personable and active in public discussion.
Although social technologies are beneficial in the sense that they allow anyone and everyone to participate in politics, they also create challenges for citizens who are trying to develop an understanding of what is going on in the world. There is so much information available that it can be nearly impossible to sort through it all and determine which sources are reliable and which are not. You can search for one topic and find thousands of articles telling you different things. This can lead to confusion and the spread of false information if citizens are not educated on how to check sources and separate fact from fiction. Ultimately, social technologies have provided us with almost too much information making it difficult to determine who and what can be trusted.