New Media: Continuing Questions and New Roles
When we think of new media, the first thing that comes into mind is this innovative technology that is completely revolutionary and unlike any other medium of communication. Looking further into the function that new media plays in the lives of so many individuals, it is clear new media is not all that “new”. In fact, the pure function of new media has been around long before the creation of new media itself namely social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Tinder, YikYak, and the countless amount of blogs. Maybe new media is not as fresher than you would think it initially is.
However, new media is a way to connect with others on a larger and global scale. Similar to when the telegraph was created, which allowed people to communicate with others that were geographically displaced, new media serves as the most efficient and instant channel of communication. Since the basic function of new media as a communication tool has not changed, the question becomes how does new media impact the way we decide to communicate with others, if at all? The answer to this question is new media has changed how we interact with people both virtually and face-to-face.
Many people argue using technology to communicate has caused greater barriers to personal interaction. Although it is concerning when a group of people are sitting in one area glued to their phones, the communication of new media reaches larger audiences. It enables people from around the world to become connected and experience events that occur internationally. If it were not for the capability of technology, some events would not even be broadcasted and known to the public. If the public does not have access to certain events, this event will never enter the public sphere for debate and discussion.
For example, CNN now has an online segment called iReports that allows people to actively practice citizen journalism. The stories that have been told from this segment sometimes are more powerful than stories created by trained journalists. The importance of enabling more people to produce, upload, and distribute content is necessary for democracy to survive. Coverage of events should not just be left to news organizations because it is impossible for reporters to be at every single event that is happening in various parts of the world. Citizen journalism effectively fills in this gap and enables a wide variety of issues to be disclosed to others.
This use of new media as a way to bring the world together and motivate people to support a certain cause or demand a resolution to a pressing issue supports Utilitarian thinking. Utilitarianism states that the ethical choice upholds the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If new media enables people in the U.S. to know about a human rights violation due to poor working conditions in a factory that sells products to the U.S., which causes people to form a coalition against mistreatment of workers, then the result of new media is ethical and moral. Citizen journalism has the potential to bring problems to light and generate attention and awareness to events that may not be featured on mainstream channels.
However, since anyone can become a citizen journalist and create content for online spaces, it can raise a few issues. Unlike trained journalists, citizen journalists are not necessarily held to the same standards as journalists that work in a credible news organization. The Society of Professional Journalists holds experienced journalists to a set of codes whereas normal everyday citizens are not required to fact check and add value to the facts through providing researched explanations.
Under the Pluralistic Theory of Value, which states that there is a difference between right and good in which not all right actions produce goods results. In this case, if a person, who is not constrained by the ethics and values of working in a news organization that has defined ethical guidelines, how does this change the quality of information proliferation? Let’s say that a person goes on a blog and sees a post about a rape case and asks the name of the rape victim. Then the person posts a story about the rape and identifies the victim by name according to the online source they consulted. Should citizen journalists be held to the same standard of identifying themselves online? Or does requiring citizen journalists to clarify this point before asking the question, invading their privacy?
Using the Pluralistic Theory of Value it is obvious that the citizen journalist may have thought the right action was to make this rape case known to more people in order to get justice for the rape victim. However, the way in which they got the information did not necessarily result in “good” consequences for either the victim involved or for upholding the duty of veracity/truth. It is so easy for people to hide their true intentions behind a computer screen; however, if we are to live in a society that values honesty and transparency we must also practice open communication.
New media also has its disadvantages, which I would argue initially may seem to outweigh the positives, yet it is important to keep in mind that with any new way of doing something there always is going to be issues to overcome and new challenges to face. Although it may seem that new media causes more harm than good, it does not mean that it should be abandoned and not utilized. All too often, people become extremely fed up with social media due to its focus on generating the most likes, followers, tweets and favorites. The most recent example is former blogger and social media guru Essena O’Neil who claimed that social media is horrible and that she is going to stop using certain platforms to protest the hideousness of the new way to communicate. It is true that new media creates new challenges, yet to make the claim that it only causes negative results got me looking so crazy right now.
Sometimes social media can be a bit overwhelming and bring up many valid concerns about privacy and originality. At the same time, so much of how we function as a society revolves around being connected 24/7 online whether it is for school, work, or for personal use. It is impossible to disregard social media for the sake of it being too shallow because more frequently than not social media brings to attention uncommon events and even embraces unpopular opinion. For example, many give credit to the use of Twitter for bringing attention and awareness while gathering additional rioters during the riots that took place in London in 2012. If social media can generate that large of a reach and movement, then new media upholds Communitarianism. Communitarianism emphasizes truth and justice and stresses the need to see how individual actions impact the larger society. Since riots are often times formed to protest an injustice by a larger institution, new media in proliferating this message to others and encouraging groups to form and rally against a certain decision, upholds this idea of being committed to seeking proper change.
New media does promote a greater sense of democracy by enabling more people to have access to information and also to provide information to others. Before the Internet, information was available only to those who could afford books or to attend school. However, now people only need to log into a computer and find out what is going on in the world and become a better-informed citizen. This contributes to democracy because people who know what is occurring in the government or internationally, are able to demand change if necessary and keep an eye on government decision. Even more so, new media breaks down the barriers to knowledge and enables everyone to interact with international issues through an online public space. However, this newfound way of upholding democracy by including many ideas, thoughts, and opinions also creates an opportunity for posting negative comments and hate comments online about the subjects within an article without any real repercussions.
Considering this issue through Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which emphasizes the rule of “treating others the way you want to be treated” and the ethical action can be applied universality, it is easy to realize hate comments about certain subjects in an article does not uphold the first standard of treating others the way you would want to be treated. It also fails the second standard because saying careless and aggressive comments about other people online, especially those who are suffering, should never become universal law. For example, the recent decision of Chicago to allow Syrian refugees into our city is an extremely controversial subject. People who oppose this decision, reflect their anger of immigration online without thinking about the people who are having to flee their country to survive. Applying Kant’s Categorical Imperative would lead these individuals who post angry and offensive comments to realize that if they were in the shoes of the people who are enduring certain social upheaval they would not want to be disrespected by empty and uninformed opinions.
There is no doubt that new media supports the democratization of the web. Never before has there been a greater ability for everyone to have access to knowledge whether it is current domestic events, politics, international news, cultural trends or societal values. Yet the theory that new media supports the proliferation of many thoughts and opinions is an ideal and a somewhat utopian perspective. Realistically speaking, many people when they log into their social media interact only with their friends and family cohort. It’s almost like people are contained in their distinctive groups and when they see a friend comment on a post they react by thinking baby it’s you, you’re the one I love, you’re the one I need, you’re the only one I see.
In other words, people are not interested in extending their reach to include other audiences. When external audiences are not included in primary media consumption this creates a knowledge gap and actually damages the progression towards a democratic state. For there to even be a democracy, people must be willing to open their minds to talking with people who have different viewpoints and perspectives. There simply cannot be this divide that separates people into groups that have the same thinking and viewpoints. A democracy is not simply having a variety of ideas and perspectives enter into the public sphere for debate. Rather democracy requires there to be an actual consumption and discussion of a range of topics with a diverse group of people. If new media supposedly serves as a tool to establish democracy and bring people together, then it should encourage people to step out of their groups and step into a world that offers so much knowledge to consume and perspectives to think about.
This high level of information personalization offered by new media has great ethical implications. One principle that could be applied to evaluate the dilemma that develops when new media acts as an information source that presents highly selective and segmented information for the individual is Aristotle’s Golden Means. This principle addresses how the ethical action is the means between the two extremes. In this case one extreme would be to only pay attention to news and events that are of personal interest to you. This extreme is not ethical because it puts other events that are still important to know about underneath topics that you might find more interesting or entertaining. The other extreme is to absorb as much current events as possible without exclusivity. This extreme would result in information overload because while it is important to know what is going on in the world, trying to know everything results in an information paralysis. The ethical decision would be for the individual to select the information that he/she wants to consume because of personal interest, yet to also reach out into other topics that are not thought of as extremely exhilarating. With new media there should be a balance between exclusive information consumption and attempting to consume all [the information]that I see, give me everything.
One of my guilty pleasures is watching Entertainment Tonight, but I do not limit myself to this information source. I balance entertainment news with political news through downloading the CNN app or listening to MSNBC podcasts. Aristotle’s Golden Means helps guide us to realize that new media does not just have to be centered around providing personalized information; it can and should incorporate information that may not be looked at upon first glance to strive for greater exposure and new ways of thinking.
New media is an extremely interesting topic because it is constantly changing not only the way we communicate, but the way we think, interact, explore, and live. As people become more reliant on their new media devices and sources to deliver customized information, we have to think about the implications of too much personalization. Additionally, we have to consider the impact that new media has on the quality of information and how it is sought, especially when incorporating citizen journalism into the mix. Regardless, new media is here to stay and will continue to evolve as time passes.