Are social media really social?

It was the title of the keynote speech delivered by Prof. Sean D. Williams at the 1st International Syposium on Language and Communication. The talk was highly thought-provoking, and it definitely encouraged me and audience to think about our own use of social media. He argues that social media are actually not social from the perspective of communication since they do not involve two-way interaction. For instance, on Facebook when people update their status, they generally get “likes”, but it is not communication when we look at the issue from the conversation analysis framework as it requires adjacency pairs, namely “speak” and “respond”. He believes that Facebook causes exhibitionism, which in turn results in narcissism. The statement is substantially true when we consider the “check-ins” and photos.

According to Gricean’s cooperative principle, conversation is a way of creating a shared reality. The reality that social media creates tends to be cultural narcissism. Especially on Twitter, most of the people just posts and shouts at the crowd. Tweets are mostly not directed at anybody, which suggests that communication does not occur. Therefore, Twitter seems to be less social and interactive than Facebook. It is just a way of pushing information. Particularly on Twitter, people usually talk about themselves, which promotes the culture of narcissism.

He gives examples from his own Facebook. He says that he has friends that he does not know in real life on Facebook. It might be the case for quite a few people all around the world. For instance, on Facebook I have friends that I just say “hi” in real life . He maintains that when a person’s friends do not comment on the status update, there are no interactivity and no communication, at all. At that time, a woman from the audience takes the floor and claims that most of the things that Prof. Williams argues are valid for low-context cultures, such as USA and Western European countries. She asserts that people from high- context culture, such as Pakistan, communicate with their friends on Facebook very well and get a lot of comments on their status updates. Maybe she is right. The interactivity and communication depend on culture on social media tools, but I can say that social media are not really social for most of the people in the word. Maybe we should regard the little interactive nature of social media as a new way of communication…

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