Social media — a new kind of medialization

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:

  1. increasing media attention for scientific issues
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

3 thoughts on “Social media — a new kind of medialization

  1. Emily

    I agree with you that social media gives scientists the opportunity to get their research out to the public without the filter of popular press, but at the same time I’m acutely aware that most of the researchers I interact with are oblivious to the power of social media and its ability to be used to disseminate research findings.

    One of the amazing things about social media is its ability to allow people to connect with one another on a (somewhat) leveled playing field. Researchers and research consumers can have a dialogue that wasn’t really possible prior to social media. Obviously dialogue is essential to the research process, but prior to forums like blogging and twitter, these conversations took place at professional meetings, within scientific journals, and occasionally in the media when journalists decided to write an article based on what they perceived as an interesting research finding.

    As a research consumer I get excited when I have the chance to communicate directly with a researcher, or read their latest article when they tweet about it. I think it not only makes the researcher seem more approachable, the knowledge more accessible, and I would think that from the researchers’ perspective it could provide them with additional insight into the population or issue they have chosen to research.

    Now if we could just convince more researchers of the utility of social media as a legitimate and worthwhile venue for discussing their work…

  2. BL

    Very interesting! When I worked in DC, I did some research on using new media (ie social media) as a tool for health. New technology definitely allows for better disimination of health information, but at the same time opens doors for misinterpretation and what I call “headline grabbing.” As you pointed out, pretty much anyone can pass themselves off as an expert, so there is a risk of having people getting advice from those who are not really qualified to give it. In addition, social media such as twitter is perfectly designed to feed into people simply reading the headline, or a one line summary of some research/finding, which often leads to a skewed perception of what is actually being discussed. Science and health is usually not as simple as an article makes it out to be, and especially a headline.

  3. The characteristic of the social media is that it is totally unrestrained & its comments are propogated rapidly. This means both informed & ill-informed comments are readily available & uncensored. It becomes a new & vast source of information which bypasses traditional media sources which have their own bias & ignorance & lessens the influence of these traditional sources – which is beneficial in my opinion. It is also self-balancing to a large degree as it promotes the expression of genuine contrary opinions. And the opinions are frequently those of individuals, so the influence of professional political wordsmiths is also downgraded. This applies no matter the subject matter of the comment

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