Is Social Media Twisting to Populist Elitism? YouTube Awards and User Generated Content

It seems clear that the most popular social media platforms are for profit initiatives as explained in our former article on Second Life and art museums. Unfortunately or not, social does not mean gratis. However, and as a result of the twist to a more commercial strategy from social media companies, we have noticed an increasing will for establishing “quality differences” among user generated content.

The New York Times’ article, “YouTube Awards the Top of Its Heap” by Virginia Heffernan underlines the consequences of those changes implemented by YouTube. This online community is not any more about “no judgments, no hierarchies, big bandwidth and lots of freedom” but about competition for popularity. In other words, the most voted video, the best one.

We can bet that never a museum related video will win any award at YouTube. But do not panic, although we would love it, being popular is not the same as being prestigious. Prestige is about being important to the ones you really (your museum) care. Should museums care about everyone’s opinion? Ideally, yes because we are institutions opened to everyone. But if our standard is everyone’s opinion, how should we understand the fact that most of people do not care about museums? Is everyone’s opinion really meaningful to us? Let us assume it: we are a minority’s subject, we talk to a minority, and we have to live with that fact in the world of social media “the most voted” competitions.

As it is our belief that museums should be primarily prestigious and if so, popular as well, being a minority should not mean any problem. The problem comes when the idea of prestige is twisted to elitism because of a commercial strategy. Apparently, “being different” is becoming the most important value among online community members. Should be social media about establishing differences inside communities, or about sharing? The answer is not easy because what museums really do is establishing quality differences by proposing selected exhibitions and collections. We are lost…

Video waterrandi: The Museum of Lost Wonder, 2006. Posted on October 2.

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