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Social Media as Disruptive Forces

The next speaker in this ASMC14 session is Brian McNair, whose interest is in the impact of social media during crises. It is difficult, of course, to isolate the role of social media in such circumstances; we cannot know how social media have changed the world, and nor can we know what the world would be like without social media.

Brian notes Luhmann's view that boundary maintenance is system maintenance – so is the boundary dissolution that we see with social media the precursor for a form of collapse of whole systems of social, civic, or institutional governance? How do the different communicative affordances that new and especially social media provide affect who can speak and what can be said?

Brian draws parallels between the impact of social media and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was also associated with significant changes in media (following the partial liberalisation of Soviet media practices following the Chernobyl disaster). Other moments of destabilisation are also associated with the arrival of new media channels, platforms, and practices, including – most recently – social media.

There are variously optimistic and pessimistic views on such disruptions of the established equilibrium, of course. Disruptive moments may generate opportunities for positive change, or create new uncertainty and antagonism. Ultimately it is unlikely that social media as such produce any such change – but they will have a role to play in it.