Social Media is an Oxymoron Revisited


A few years ago we looked at the topic of social media is an oxymoron.  Has anything changed in the last few years?

According to one Wikipedia definition, “Social media can be defined as ‘interactive platforms via which individuals and communities create and share user-generated content.’ Social Media is further clarified as technologies that on different forms such as: Internet forums, social blogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures, magazines, weblogs, microblogging, social networks, photographs, social bookmarking, and video. Social media interaction interaction is typically from an Internet connected device: a computer, smart phone, or tablet.


So, how does social media measure-up with respect Anthroposemiotics, or understanding how people communicate? First, we must examine how and why humans communicate.

Humans communicate for a number of reasons:

1) Physical needs – the presence or absence of communication can affect physical health. Communication allows us to survive, to find or give help when needed.

2) Identity needs – communication allows us to understand who we are. We form an opinion of our “self” based on the interaction and reaction of others. Are we intelligent or dumb, fun to be with or boring, introvert or extrovert, skilled or lacking in skill? These answers don’t come from being alone with ourselves but from our give and take when communicating with others.

3) Social needs – communication satisfies certain social needs that we all have. These include affection, escape, control, pleasure, companionship, and relaxation.

So, how do we communicate? Communication is in the form of verbal and nonverbal forms. A firm handshake is an expression of personality. The eyes often provide more information than words can describe. A look away or held eye contact may show intimacy, dominance, deception, submission, happiness, or anger. Other nonverbal clues are important in communication. A step back may say “you are invading my space. I’m uncomfortable.” Or, a light touch may indicate empathy, or physical interest. Beyond the actual meaning of the words in verbal communication, the tone, inflection, energy, or delivery of the language can provide the emotions not given by the words.

If we examine the list of social media interaction listed above (social bookmarking, video, wikis, etc…), we immediately see the shortcomings:

1) Nonverbal ques are non-existent: No eye contact, no physical signals, no auditory elements in the communication
2) No spontaneity with a person in the moment. Social media requires an Internet connection. Can you imagine trying to replicate the excitement of your child scoring the winning goal, the emotions of being with your spouse during childbirth, the good times of family or class reunions, and many others.
3) No way to classify “who we are”. Social media does not allow us a platform to understand our “self” based on the interaction and reaction of others.

Given the forms of social media and methods used in this communication method, social media is an anonymous method of communication where an individual can interact as a persona that may not actually represent who the person really is in real life, and therefore, any feedback, remarks, or other interaction with another social media citizen will not provide valid communication-based social needs for either party involved. This is so prevalent and well known to social media citizens that we learn to read and view everything through a “truth” or ”reality” filter. As interaction with a social media friend comes closer in contact with the real world, we often ask for proof of identity via a real name, a phone number for verification, a recent photo, etc…

Social media is an oxymoron. It does little to satisfy the real needs for human communication. If this continues, I can see social media moving more and more to a MMORPG (massively multi-player online role playing game) model. As social media platforms provide for more anonymity, avatars, icons, online personas, and bios, each of us becomes a player in the social media network. We interact with other players and get to know these online avatars extremely well, but, in the process, we learn nothing about ourselves or the real people behind the social media mask. So, pick up the phone and actually talk to someone; get out and visit with coworkers, friends, or family; start up a conversation with that person in the checkout line; communicate, people, communicate!

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Social Media is an Oxymoron Revisited — 5 Comments

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