James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Social networking numbers ad up, even if they don’t add up

Posted by James McPherson on October 20, 2009

One of the things I talk about in media history is how each new form of technology brings with it an aura of credibility–as if because the information is coming via a new medium, that information automatically is more credible, more useful, etc. Now that students know that “the Internet” alone isn’t a credible source, though, I had hoped we were beyond that assumption of credibility with modern electronic media.

Or perhaps not, judging by the video below. A student sent me a link to the video, which is “wow-imagine-that” interesting and which offers a lot of startling claims and numbers about social networking (though it doesn’t seem to mention the criminal aspects). Unfortunately, with virtually no attribution of sources, we must take the video for what it’s worth, and I fear that most viewers will believe most of it. I do think that it’s worth seeing for anyone interested in marketing or mass media. That’s why I’ve included it below–with reservations.

One of my favorite claims from the video: “If Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s fourth largest.” Of course it would also be the world’s most self-involved and boring country. One of the claims I would question–that Wikipedia is more accurate than the Encyclopedia Britannica–apparently led to my favorite comment in response to the video: “i could hardly believe some of those statistics…until i looked them up on wikipedia.”

Others also questioned the numbers, leading the apparent producer of the video to respond in the comments section, “All sources for the stats can be found on my blog socialnomics[dot]com.” Like the video, the blog seems to exist largely as a means of promoting a book, but by going there I was able to find sources for the material. Sadly, those sources included Facebook (hmm, no incentive for them to boost their states), Huffington Post, an unidentified “metro newspaper,” wikipedia.org (really?), some that couldn’t be found, and a couple of blogs–and almost nothing I would accept from a college junior for a class paper.

It would be nice, of course, if  American viewers also had a better understanding of media literacy. One of the more amusing things I noticed: The most recent response–from a marketing firm–calls the piece a “brilliantly illustrated video that truly highlights the social media revolution that is taking place every hour of every day! Thank you so much for posting this important piece that I will continue to share when I guest lecture to entrepreneurs about marketing! Social Media is not a fad, and will only continue to evolve into exactly what people want it to be–free of ads and full of targeted and useful content that can better their lives.”

Free of ads? The video itself is an advertisement full of other ads, many of the comments like the one just cited are themselves ads, and various clickable promos run along the bottom of the screen throughout the video. Another of its stats: “Only 14 percent [of consumers] trust advertising.” Fourteen percent is too many, of course–but it also means that 86 percent shouldn’t trust anything in this video without doing some independent research.

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