Social media isn’t socialism

If you’ve started blogging, photosharing, or tweeting to any extent, then you’ve witnessed firsthand the “social” nature of social media.  Individuals post opinions and ideas, share emotions, and exchange thoughts on topics ranging from mundane to profound.

As for me, I love LOLcats as much as I love social psychology.  Socializing increases the value of content.  The channels may have a feedback mechanism, but they’re worthless unless put to use.

However, socializing shouldn’t be confused with socialism, although some principles seem to apply.  For example, social computing has facilitated a transfer of power from traditional media institutions to a widely distributed base of smaller beacons, typically individuals.

But individuals need incentive to participate.  And the incentive they seek is typically not monetary.  It’s more often activation of the feedback channel – that others agree, disagree, share, favorite their content.  The system requires individual ownership and authorship to work effectively.

When someone plagiarizes content, the social system breaks down.  Individuals who plagiarize seek to claim credit for themselves.   Social media is already social and a Robin Hood-style redistribution of value isn’t required.  But credit and attribution remain key to socializing and increasing the value of content for everyone involved.

So, political scientists, where does social media end up then?
  • We share ideas in the commons, but seek individual credit, which isn’t communism.  Not all blogs are created equal.
  • We participate in content aggregators like AlltopSocial Media Today, and Social Computing Magazine, but retain personal ownership, which isn’t quite socialism.  
  • We compete with others by publishing individual blogs or photostreams, but also distribute freely and encourage others to share, remix, and improve upon the original, which isn’t quite capitalism.

What I can tell you is that it’s important to give credit where credit is due.  And while we may find ourselves in the midst of a power shift from institutions to individuals, social media may thrive on socialization, but it isn’t socialism.