Held at Morehouse College, last night’s CNN Dialogues focused on the social media habits of Americans. CNN’s Don Lemon, a veteran journalist and avid social media user moderated the discussion. Joining him on stage were Maggie Jones, Baratunde Thurston, Pete Wentz and Shaun King.
The conversation explored the self-importance and inflated sense of ego social network users often feel. This isn’t a surprising revelation in our increasingly panoptic culture. People enjoy playing to their audience of followers, self- promotion and the feeling of being an internet celebrity. According to panelist Shaun King, “there is no line of demarcation between his on and offline personas.”
King is the personality driving a brand-Courageous Church. He says he is “thankful for the way social media has made his world smaller, more connected, that he has found people all over the world who share his passion for change.” Pete Wentz noted social media gives the voiceless a voice. It also connects people living in communities where they may feel isolated. Baratunde described social media as a lifeline for anyone living in a land where free speech is prohibited. As defined by the panelists, problems with social media occurs when we elevate online relationships over natural ones. Maggie Jackson warned of “robbing company of the ‘gift of your attention’.” Jackson went on to remind the audience social media creates additional tools for communicating and is not itself the holy grail.
CNN let its slip show by hosting a digital media dialogue with very little social media integration, announcement of a hashtag, or info on how to follow the panelists. Google+ was never discussed as the conversation centered around Facebook, Twitter with a few mentions of Linked in. (I for one do most of my socializing on Foursquare or Quora.) Security barely made it into the panelists remarks, save for Baratunde, who scolded end users blind acceptance of TOS agreements from social media providers we never review or question. A young woman shared with the panelists she puts everything on Facebook. Without being able to quantify what “everything” entails-not one panelist commented on how dangerous this can be. If the woman has a small group of followers comprised of friends and family, there is no harm. Yet, if it’s a network of hundreds, including people she barely knows, isn’t that a problem worth noting?
Each panelist blatantly dismissed social media as a teachable discipline in higher education. Baratunde and Shaun King argued against the idea on the basis that the technology is evolving too rapidly. King noted, “academia didn’t create social media and tends to be five to ten years behind the curve. Seeing as most colleges don’t teach personal finance its unlikely social media will have a chance.”
The average college student preparing to enter the work force is already on social media and probably not using it to their advantage. Social media presents limitless opportunities for entrepreneurs of any age. Employers use these pages in hiring decisions. It is important to maintain a professional presence on social media pages and present a positive picture of who you are. Educating students on how to do so is the responsibility of the institutions they are trusting in to prepare them for the real world.
Social media, its varied uses and unknown potential are the foundation of modern life. It’s importance is evident to the extent corporations have rushed so eagerly into the social fray. Most major companies are hiring digital media professionals to run their social networks and devise strategy. CNN Dialogues missed a critical moment to incorporate the economic impact of social media into the discussion. As Baratunde commented, “too much of anything is bad for you, like donuts.” Social media for all of its flaws is transforming every industry and individual it touches. Moving the conversation out of beta is a certain next step toward discerning its future.