Traditional Media Matters - Social Media Doesn't

Aksel is passionate about foreign policy and democratic inclusion. He has been involved in campaigns to ensure that minority ethnic groups have access to justice. Aksel is a strong believer in taking action to address inequalities.

The social media frenzy is closing in on what is hopefully its peak. Self-proclaimed social media evangelists and experts have grasped the momentum and their message is starting to be echoed; social media is of great importance, likes, tweets, and shares are just as important metrics as traditional press coverage. Well, they're wrong.

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In today’s media landscape, social media is being credited with an unfair influence. Take the Arab Spring as an example. Some researchers seem to be under the false assumption that correlation proves causality. The timing of tweets, Facebook posts and YouTube videos may correspond with incidents on the ground; but this doesn't prove that the first caused the second. Rather, one could argue that social media is simply mirroring what's happening. But just like a mirror, could social media be reflecting and enhancing it?

Social media didn't make the Arab Spring a success. Activists and local leaders risking their life at Tahrir Square and elsewhere made it happen, and the traditional mass media facilitated it by being present and vigilant. By doing so the traditional media effectively functioned as an insurance for the demonstrators against being massacred by regime supporters. Social media couldn’t have filled that role effectively because of its lack of credibility.

This is the biggest problem with social media. No one is vetting most of what is posted, a fact that hoaxers and spin doctors worldwide thrive on. How would you know if the dead children in the photo were in fact killed last Tuesday in the bomb attack, and not a year ago during a completely unrelated tragedy? The fact is: you can’t - and neither can policy makers. So they ignore it, until it is verified, and often by the so-called “dying” traditional media.

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Social media is in fact not vital by any metric, for any movement. New problems arise when the whole world is given a microphone. We are drowning in the constant stream of messages, photos and videos, unless the information is picked up by a traditional media outlet or an authority figure.

How many girls were brought back in Nigeria after literally everyone with a Twitter account (and probably a fair share of the users of Facebook and Instagram) had been exposed to at least one of the “Bring back our girls” hashtags? Would it have become a “thing” unless the traditional media cared? Would Michelle Obama really have put her name behind the campaign if it wasn’t verified by several independent and well-reputed media outlets? And with 219 of the kidnapped girls still remaining in captivity, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook have moved on to other hashtag campaigns.

Social media doesn’t raise money.

For every ice bucket challenge, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of NGO's and companies who are throwing money away on social media advertising and "viral" marketing campaigns. And even for the success stories - like the ice bucket challenge - it is questionable how effective it really was. The American ALS Association, responsible for igniting the Ice Bucket Challenge social media frenzy, has reported to have received 100 million USD in donations and still counting. As the campaign spread worldwide, many donated to charities in their respective countries. The highest estimation is as generous as 200 million USD which would be an enormous number for a small-sized NGO like the ALS Association was prior to the campaign. Still, compared to the yearly Norwegian telethon, an annual one-day campaign, it’s not really that impressive. Last year the campaign raised 30 million USD solely from a population of 5 million in one day, while the ice bucket challenged raised its 200 million USD altogether in 24 weeks, from both 320 million Americans, as well as other countries when the challenge went global.

Neither is it that large when compared to what the big players within the NGO-industry are raising every year - without any ice bucket challenges.

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Social media isn’t revolutionary

On more of a personal note, as an industry insider, it’s saddening to see charlatans yet again coupling the “momentum like” with website development and search engine-optimization. It’s really depressing to see online advertising as a whole earn a bad reputation, because a fraction of the web is priced as 5-star properties, when it’s really just average 3-stars. Social media marketing has its place in the marketing mix, but not at any price and not within any budget. The smaller the budget, the more likely it is that the alternative cost will outweigh the value of the medium.

And social media in itself is revolutionary. It's not even here to stay for the next decades. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are simply the BBS, IRC and Usenet of the young today, not the electrical telegraph, radio or phone. The Internet in its current form is still a relatively young medium, and the Internet is the true revolution that is still relevant to talk about, and protect.

But Internet, like social media, is simply a platform, a tool. The brave few who dare to challenge the conformity of status quo, are the ones who should be celebrated. Not social media. It's the Chinese farmers who met in secret and laid out the a plan that would revolutionize China, but could just as easily have earned a death sentence. It's the journalists who dare challenge governments, like Greenwald and others. And not least, the traditional media outlets, that are leveraging their status, their connections, their brand names, their finances in order to help them. Media outlets, who sometimes put everything on stake to make the sacrifice of the brave few, matter. Because in a world without them, the brave few are reduced to a David without his slingshot, who still has to meet a fully armed Goliath. He still has his stones, but they aren’t close to have the impact it would with a slingshot.

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