I started this post about two months ago and then put it aside to return later. At the time I was heavily discussing my ideas on “social media” under my tagline of “Impact of the wired world” (sadly neglected for a month or so). I had written a post saying that to study, esp. scientifically, the effect of social media one had to distinguish different types of online activity that get lumped together as social media. Some activities may be, other activities may not. At the time blogging seemed to me not to quite meet the threshold but based on a lot more experience since I started blogging, now I see it differently. Two months ago I said:
- Blogs had to provide some content that actually provokes discussion (but what kind of discussion? does that matter?) in order to be defined as social media since I would require interaction as a requirement. Just broadcasting your ideas (even if personal), by itself, doesn’t really meet this condition. But unlike dead trees publishing blogging does allow (possibly) comment and discussion, so some blogging can be viewed as social.
- But to be social requires readers. There are millions of blogs out there and the vast majority get few comments on their posts. Without the interaction of other people one-way communication can not be social, so in fact most blogging is not social.
- Even when there are readers and comments there may still be little interaction. Seeing a nice photo spread and “liking” it hardly forms a connection between author and reader. So in addition to merely being noticed a blog must actually form some sort of connection between author and reader(s) and most don’t do this.
- And finally I concluded that even if a single post meets the conditions above that unless the blog actually achieves a more-or-less persistent community that not only communicate between author and readers, but between readers, a blog isn’t really social media. And the community can’t be so large as to still be anonymous, like HuffingtonPost or even PZ Myers (where only very frequent readers seem to interact). So a Goldilocks-type condition must exist, not too big, not too small.
- Another condition I thought was relevant, although not to meet the definition of social or not, and that is how newbies and occasional readers are treated. Blogging is still public (say, unlike any actual social network with exclusive membership, like Facebook) and thus whether newcomers can “join” or not plays a role in exactly how the effect of a blog should be judged. Many blogs I’ve found are “welcoming” and many are not (at the worst, a newbie is just fresh meat to be attacked).
So, that was about as far as I got two months ago. But since then I’ve had a lot more exposure to the blogging world than I had then. If you’re serious about blogging I think it’s inevitable that you’ll stop just doing only writing and in fact start doing a lot more reading. And if you want your blog to be interactive then you probably need to first start interacting with others. And that’s what I’ve done much more than when I first started and the results are much different than I expected including learning a lot about trolling and how nasty people can be, apparently a game for the worst of them.
Now first let me say I’m amazed at how much people discuss their lives with strangers. Did this happen before blogging? I don’t know since I never saw it but perhaps it did exist pre-online. But often the “community” that forms around these highly personal blogs is mysterious; often commenters seem to “know” the author (or each other) yet this social network is very implicit and very unobvious to outsiders. Which then leads me to being mystified about why these semi-private communities form in such a public environment, again, say in contrast to something like Facebook. What is it that drives people toward this activity, and, what did they do before blogging.
I thought blogging was mostly about ideas, little mini-essays and rants about all the familiar topics of discussion. But there is a significant fraction of the blogs, at least here at WordPress that are much more personal than that.
So now I put blogging into the ‘maybe’ category. Mostly it is not social media, but some of it is and sometimes even more intense than conventional F2F encounters. So it’s more than I imagined a few months ago when I started.
So relative to the work that Dr. Tracy Dennis is pursuing I would say a significant subset of all the blogs meet any working definition of social media. And, in fact, some may actually be more intense and have more effect on the participants than other nominal social media, esp. say most Facebook or most texting. So I think if that subset could be identified, in sufficient quantity to create a statistically meaningful sample, there is a lot of investigation that can be done. And, finally, I think there are many impacts on people, both possible and negative but certainly there is no overall pattern, at least that I can discern. So potentially for the scientists such as Dr. Dennis it would be helpful to identify the “tells” that indicate whether a blog may be positive or potentially harmful.
In a future post I may eventually write about my strange interactions over at FreeThoughtBlogs but I certainly would never have suspected such nasty things could happen, that comments would escalate and escalate, that innocent comments would be interpreted negatively, and that other comments are some of the most vile things people can say. Several of the blog authors there have been so intensely attacked that it has driven them into silence. Certainly this is pathological behavior, but how can it be explained, or perhaps even more important how can it be avoided.