How Intercultural Is Social Media?
Via Twitter, I stumbled across this blogpost, talking about Social Media and Intercultural Communication. Interesting, I thought, as I believe "culture" is an essential component of Social Media to start with. I was left with a sense of non-achieved to some extent, as I think this blogpost does not really reflect how cultural boundaries are pushed away thanks to online communication.
For one, I am missing hard facts. The blogpost starts with a bunch of statements that don't seem to be backed by any kind of research. I'd love to see numbers, or proofs. Only one example is given later in the post about how the same people follow the same people. And frankly, it does not really convince me in drawing conclusions that:
When it comes to communicating with others online, most of us tend to stick to people within our own cultural group. For those of us in Western societies, it’s easier to communicate and connect with others who experience the same culture and language.
Mind you, I don't really have hard facts either, just my experience.
Let's start with language. It makes sense that the use of one language over another does limit the scope of online communication. I mean, I follow people who tweet in Chinese and well, although it happens to me to click on their links, I just don't understand what they are talking about. This said, I am amazed at the number of allegedly-non-English-speakers who react to my Facebook statuses. Most of them French, and from whom I would never have expected that they even read my statuses in English. In that regard, I find that the use of one language is not as limiting as I thought it would be.
Then comes culture. And there, I just can't agree that
social media is all about the same-same. Social Media is a way to broadly share thoughts, ideas and information. And I think that this sharing occurs, to a certain extent, regardless of culture. For the sake of clarity, we'll assume that culture here is taken in its broadest sense, ie. something like 'Western culture", shaped mainly by loose national borders and linguistic boundaries.
My followers, and the people i follow on identi.ca and Twitter, for example, can roughly be put into two categories. The first one would be my friends (in the real life sense of the term, not in the Facebook sense of the term), who follow me or whom I follow just because I am me and they are them. They don't really care what I share, as long as it comes from me, and I don't really care what they share, as long as it comes from them. We have a predisposition to being interested in the same things. The second category are the people I don't know, but who share the same interests as me. May it be all-things-wikipedia, or parenting, or the love of words, or geeky things such as Linux and KDE. These can be anyone. They could be indians, or Chinese, French or Americans, Kenyans or South Americans. We speak the same language(s) or we don't, it doesn't matter. What matters is that we have at least one thing, one interest, in common. Our national cultures are different, our social cultures (social backgrounds) are different, we may vote right, left, or center, love cheese or hate it. As a matter of fact, we could meet in real life and find nothing to talk about at all, nothing that binds us except that one interest, and even then, find each other boring, uninteresting or even plain annoying. In that regard, I believe social media actually brings people together who can be culturally extremely far away from each other.
Of course one could argue that these "interests" are a culture in and of themselves, but that's the reason I restricted the definition of culture above, because that's how I understood it was defined in the blogpost I quoted. What I find is that social media, because it brings some kind of focus, actually allows people with very different cultural sensitivities to find a connection, and allows for conversations between people which would, without this one entry point, not take place at all.