sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from

"Things fall apart"? SRSLY?

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on September 2, 2009

Over at the HASTAC blog, Cathy Davidson has posted a fantastic piece about a so-called “Facebook Exodus.”

Davidson’s post is called “Is Facebook the Technology from Hell?” and it tackles a New York Times article by Virginia Heffernan that suggests that

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Facebook, the online social grid, could not command loyalty forever. If you ask around, as I did, you’ll find quitters…. [W]hile people are still joining Facebook and compulsively visiting the site, a small but noticeable group are fleeing — some of them ostentatiously.

Davidson, while acknowledging her affinity for other Heffernan-authored pieces, rightly attacks this article for sloppy research and a bald-faced refusal to interpret data rationally. First, Davidson explains,

The “small but noticeable group” she documents are her friends. Their reasons are the ones that any wise FB user needs to be cautious of. Privacy, mostly. Of course FB is datamining. It’s “free,” right? Well, no. As every Cat in the Stack user knows by now, the “information is free” fantasy has been over for a long, long time. If it is free, they are gathering information that they can sell on the backend. There is no free lunch and no free Internet.

While it’s certainly true, Davidson adds, that Facebook’s popularity is declining among the younger demographic and it likely won’t remain the behemoth it is now for the rest of time, there’s no reason to think it will turn into the “online ghost town” Heffernan believes it’s doomed to become–a ghost town, by the way, “run by zombie users who never update their pages and packs of marketers picking at the corpses of social circles they once hoped to exploit.”

But Davidson’s most important point is this:

methodology, people! We have to hold mainstream media responsible in the same way we hold the Internet bloggers and writers responsible. One’s five friends are not necessarily the best filter on the world.

It is passing peculiar that the journalistic revolution–everybody, Clay Shirky writes, is a potential media outlet–is being covered by journalism’s old guard, the very people whose vocations are threatened by new media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, blogging applications and forums. Humans have consistently proven their ability to see only what they want to see and ignore the rest; print journalists, for all their training in “objectivity” and “fairness,” are really no different.

Of course not all print journalists are focused on studiously ignoring the social revolution, despite the overwhelming likelihood that it will come at the cost of their entire field as we know it today. For proof, just follow any journalist who actively uses Twitter as god intended it (I recommend David Carr, David Pogue, and Rachel Maddow).

Still, the question remains: Given the inherent bias of print media outlets toward print media outlets, how do we decide what to trust? Is it true that Facebook, Twitter and the like are suffering from a decline in popularity, that online reportage is less reliable than print outlets, or, indeed, that print journalism is really in the dire straits it purports to be?

One Response to “"Things fall apart"? SRSLY?”

  1. Cathy Davidson said

    Nice post, Jenna. I love your line about using "Twitter as God intended it." LOL. Thanks for the shout out, too.

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