How We’re Influenced Differently Through Social Media vs. Traditional Media

Paul O'Brien
4 min readJul 17, 2023
OpenAI’s Dall-E version of me surfing the internet while ignoring the newspaper

Social Media: we are the publisher.

Traditional Media: a brand is the publisher.

That is the easiest and most important distinction everyone should appreciate and understand.

The New York Times is a Traditional Media publisher and thus its content is inherently biased (right or wrong in that bias isn’t relevant because that’s a subjective opinion). All Traditional Media is biased and has been since the dawn of it.

Spin and political agendas of the late 20th century tried to establish that traditional media is fact-based truth (Truth in Journalism, Fair and Balanced, etc.). In reality though, journalism has a long and famous history of partisan influence as well as its own political agendas (see Yellow Journalism, for example).

he underlying motivation is that publishers (companies) and politicians need to make money and influence. So, what we witnessed in that push to establish that news is always 100% honest, was really spin of its own, to retain readers and influence.

“Trust us! We won’t lie to you like *they* do!”

Ad Fontes Media — Media Bias Chart

As the new millennia dawned, we started to see the cracks in that spin, particularly as MSNBC and Fox News started their turf war over who was more honest, despite both being very clearly left and right. CNN, historically just reporting (in the middle, sort of), chased after more and more BuzzFeed like scandal as the internet chipped away at News industry revenue, and it became clear, fast, that Traditional Media was what it has always been, biased.

Because of that, in the early 21st century, Traditional and Politician changed tack.

In the wake of the push that News and Journalism was truth failing, Traditional Media instead went on the attack; over the years claiming:

  • Social Media is insecure
  • You have no privacy
  • You can’t get a job if you’re on it because of that picture of you that one time in college
  • Zuckerberg in front of Congress
  • Cambridge Analytica
  • Internet is trying to influence you
  • Fake News. (And notice, Fake News is an internet/social media scandal about News, it’s about the Social News, not the Traditional — Fake News is the new rally cry that the *other* news source is lying to you; and now the other is Social Media)
  • …AI is going to do what to us now?

And the reason for the shift to attack is greater than just the desperation of Traditional Media to keep hold of its waning influence:

$$$$$

Votes

Control.

Yes, Control.

Because Social Media is truly democratized and global free speech.

For the first time in human history, everyone, everywhere, has a say.

Governments, all of them, are terrified by that prospect.

In a place like the United States, we might be good with that, big picture. And in a more liberal government like the Norwegian countries or Canada, they might in fact favor and appreciate it much more. But in the more controlling governments of place like North Korea, China, and Russia, suddenly The People have a voice that reaches the world, in their pocket. “Frack!!”

Spin, politics, and Traditional Media have been doing everything they can to make you, to make us all, think that Social Media is the bad guy we need to fear.

And we all, we the people, would seriously be better off as a people and humanity, if we better appreciate and socialized WHY there is so much emphasis on Social Media being bad (when it’s been scandal since the 1800s, and likely before that, that Traditional Media IS biased).

The voice on Social Media, the “publisher,” is not Threads, Facebook, nor Twitter, it’s YOU.

That’s powerful.

That’s empowering.

That’s wonderful!!

And it scares the frack out of governments, politicians, and Traditional Media which is all but irrelevant when we’re all reporters and journalists.

Does that mean Social Media isn’t biased?!?

Hahahaha, no! Of course not. You are biased. I am biased. And Facebook and Twitter, just like the New York Times or Fox News, is really only focused on making money. BUT it absolutely means Social Media is not blatantly worse because the voices of many, of all, drowns out the influence and control of some.

What is the influence of Social Media vs. Traditional Media?

Well… LinkedIn is Social Media. Quora is Social Media. Comments on my blog: Social Media.

I wrote this. You read it here, or somewhere I shared it. And here, we and everyone else, everywhere, can talk about anything; just as we can on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Threads, Instagram, or TikTok.

Is it biased and influential here? Yes, it is. But it’s the only place where far more of all of us can talk and all validate one another.

Traditional Media has a fiscal responsibility, as companies that are publishers, to make money by attracting and retaining eyeballs. It’s biased and influential too, but it’s the place in which the communication is one way: it’s telling us.

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Paul O'Brien

CEO of MediaTech Ventures, CMO to #VC, #Startup Advisor. I get you funded. Father, marketer, author, #Austin. @seobrien & @AccelerateTexas. https://seobrien.com