Recently, I blogged about medialization and medicalization in regards to “the spread of a mental disorder.” In continuation with that theme, I wanted to go a little further and talk about the role of social media in medialization (not to sound redundant or anything…).
Before proceeding, I should probably define medialization, per Simone Rodder’s article, “Reassessing the concept of a medialization of science: a story from the ‘book of life’“:
“The concept of medialization is used to describe the centrality of the media for the communication in society and processes of an orientation of social systems toward the media.”
She then breaks down the concept of medialization into two aspects:
- increasing media attention for scientific issues
- increasing orientation of science towards media
This was interesting to me, since you hear a lot about journalists sensationalizing science to produce an interesting story, but not so much about the scientific community distorting their findings to gain more press. There’s another great article — “The media’s and health scientists’ perceptions of strategies and priorities for nurturing positive scientist-media interaction for communicating health research in Uganda” (link to full pdf) — that further explores this scientist-media-society interaction:
“The most common errors in science journalism include omission of critical information and context, misquoting, simplification or sensationalization of headlines.”
“The mass media (radio, television or newspapers) plays a central role in provision of timely and reliable information to the public, fellow scientists and policy makers. The mass media is ofted cited as a primary source of health information.”
Anyway, given all of this information, my next thought is: so what about the influence of social media? Blogs, facebook, twitter, etc.
I think that social media is creating a new kind of medialization — one where you don’t have that intermediary between researchers and the public. Sure, I retweet news articles all the time, but I can also talk to psychologists, doctors, and researchers directly. Now, I wouldn’t consider twitter “a primary source of health information,” but it is a growing medium for all kinds of information… and I do think it’s going to influence this dance between science, media, and society.
How social media affects medialization:
- Increased specificity of information — either you search for someone well-versed in exactly what you’re curious about or you ask a specific Dear Abby-ish question. The info can be so highly-personalized.
- Decreased scientificness (I know that’s not a word) of information – aka: more “professional opinions” — Even if the info is way more relevant and interesting than a journal article, it’s not necessarily scientific.
- Increased availability and variety of information – with the ability to connect to people directly, you have an unlimited number of sources from which to get information. You’re not relying on CNN to interview Dr. Sanja Gupta… you can ask whoever you want. And hey, maybe it’s a doctor… or maybe it’s a yoga instructor.
- Information is dynamic and interactive – social media conversations are much more interactive than static news articles. In some instances, you’re mixing a few professional opinions with many non-professional opinions.
- Scalability and/or reach — when you have a large article in the Times, that particular story is popular because a million people are reading it. However, when you have a trending topic on Twitter, a million people may be tweeting about it but only a dozen are seeing each tweet.
The influence of new social media does eliminate many of the barriers to communication that were outlined in the perceptions of strategies article, such as “lack of knowledge by scientists about how to disseminate research” and “poor working relationship between the health scientists and the media.” However, social media has at least as many problems as traditional media. I’m sure that you can take any of the factors that I’ve listed and identify how they are detrimental. Maybe… the evolution of medialization is just different; not necessarily better or worse.