Oprah as Inventor of Social Media?

When reading through the Sunday LA Times, I was a little taken aback my Mary McNamara’s posit that Oprah Winfrey is the inventor of Social Media in her Critic’s Notebook Column. To be honest, the entire read was like a bit of a prolonged volley in tennis.  I was with her on the title “Society stays on Oprah’s message” but then against her thoughts when she wrote “Oprah Winfrey most certainly did invent social media.”

The normally-held belief is that Social Media is the use of web-based or mobile technologies to enable interactive communications.  There have been some instances where television has made great use of social media – even using ITV – but it wasn’t until chat rooms, Twitter, Facebook or others that TV shows started to engage in a “social” way as we now know it.  Even in 1999 when I was producing the site for POLITICALLY INCORRECT, I suggested bringing already-established social media elements into the show – to no avail. Back then, we would have been one of the first to do so.  In the two years that I produced the site for THE VIEW (99-01), I believe we did one real-time interaction with entries from the site.  There are many things that Oprah did to engage guests and viewers alike in ways that might not have been attempted before, but to posit that she was the inventor of social media is a bit heavy-handed.

But I read on about what McNamara was alluding to and started to see her side of things when she went into how Oprah helped society to be more open about personal issues – therefore helping themselves and others. I get that.  But then volley to the other side that perhaps it was part of the zeitgeist, with people being more and more ready to share. And, again, return to the other side of the court with the thought that Oprah’s show was such a huge part of the past 25 years that its impact on the social fabric was (and is) palpable. And, to the show’s credit, they built an internet infrastructure to support social media and interaction outside of the show.

But just as I had fallen into a comfortable groove of agreeing with what McNamara was saying, she laid down a doozy.  In the last paragraph, she states:
“television is still the ultimate form of social media, a place where you can find anyone talking about anything at any time, a genre that mirrors and directs our culture like no other, a power even greater than Winfrey herself.”

It seems a little like someone doing a little spin in support of the very field they cover. I love TV and feel the medium is second to none in conveying points of view, storytelling on a large scale and providing information, but to say it is Social Media is to misunderstand Social Media.  Until there is immediate (or even delayed) interaction with the content on the screen, opportunities on television for those without full studio backing to have content aired regularly and the any-time access of content, then television is not Social Media.

Game, Set, Match.


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