Relinquishing control of social media – collective intelligence or chaos?

Relinquishing control of social media – collective intelligence or chaos?

The current ‘internet’ age can be described as ‘dodging’ a myriad of ‘double-edged swords’.

The founder of the web, Mr. Tim Berners-Lee fully intended the web to be a platform for people (from all backgrounds no matter their geographic location, race, religion or education level) to ‘share’ information and knowledge in a ‘co-creative and collaborative’ way, what Pierre Levy calls ‘collective intelligence’.

Yet the so to speak freedom of expression, freedom of sharing and creativity also creates all sorts of ‘chaos’. Critics warn of a loss of quality and accuracy of information if channels of communication are open and even fear of ‘mob rule’.

The essence of social media as a two-way interactive and inter-connected authentic and open dialogue has come a long way and is a significant shift from traditional and mass media, which was a top down, one-way communication of a controlled information and response.

While this is a refreshing change with great potential and an opportunity for genuine participation and freedom of speech, expression and sharing of ideas – it also raises concerns of privacy, intellectual property, and whether we are actually gaining social equality and intelligence from online communication. The question of how content and comment is created and used or ‘re-used’, how to respond to criticism and inaccuracy, and how to manage social media quickly and efficiently in an online world that is instantaneous, constantly changing and is never switched off is complex.

Many governments, organisations and individuals today are trying to harness “collective intelligence” through social media, while still questioning how to control the potential issues associated with the openness, transparency and uncertainty that is inherent in the social media environment.

Richard MacManus (1995) says social media “is an attitude, not a technology” and the underlying principle is relinquishing control”.

What do you believe? What’s your attitude? Is collective intelligence outweighing the chaos?


Macnamara, J (2010) The 21st Century Media (R)evolution: Emergent Communication Practices, Peter Lang, New York.

  1. Hi Anna, like the topic. I can definitely relate as this subject is my first foray into social media and I’m feeling completely out of control. I image Mr McManus may just tell me to go with it… and that’s what I’ll be doing for the next 6 weeks. To answer your question I think at this early juncture in my social media journey I’m on the side of collective intelligence. Look forward to hearing more.

    • Thanks Roxanne for your comments. Good on you for going with it. It’s all new to me too, and feeling quite chaotic. I’m trying to take the advice of Mr MacManus and have a positive attitude and hope ultimately it helps build collective intelligence 😉

  2. Hi Anna, interesting topic. I’m new to social media too, at this stage I think social media helps build collective intelligence, because we all use different social media platforms for this assignment. I think during the process of sharing and discussing we all gain different thoughts from other people; and this process of knowledge sharing and transferring can help to create new knowledge. : )

  3. Hi Long, thanks for your thoughts. I’m well impressed with the amount of knowledge sharing and interaction within the group’s work and the collective intelligence that it is generating. It is without doubt that digital media platforms have and exhibit great potential for increased collaboration, co-creativity, and cooperation through connectivity, especially within specific interest subjects and groups such as this. I agree with your point that we each gain different thoughts and perspectives from other people. Our ideologies form the basis of postmodernism – that “social realities are constantly produced, reproduced and changed through the use of language and other symbolic forms,” (Littlejohn and Foss p. 337) to create meaning and understanding. Online platforms make shared knowledge and meaning making easier for some, and more accessible, within certain contexts and online environments. But in the broad context in which we use social media and the web, as individuals, I wonder, how much, or what percentage of our time on social media really contributes to our intelligence and greater understanding, and social, intellectual lives or are we mostly learning and reinforcing what we already know, or don’t essentially need to know?

  4. Hi Anna, great blog, answering your question I believe that social media enable collective intelligence which could seems chaotic at first- sight.
    However, the key for the success of social media/ collective intelligence is the authentic (chaotic?) collaboration and participation; if governments destroy this authenticity they will destroy collective intelligence.
    Also, I include this blog which explores how social media has become a collection of peoples’ thoughts, opinions, studies and experience on any given subject. Goggle and goggle plus are great examples of collective intelligence.

  5. Hi Anna,
    Nice write-up, its not very often that I think of the term ‘collective intelligence’ while foraying into the worldwide web, but it truly is isn’t it? We put out our thoughts, opinions, likes and dislikes without any inhibitions and “feel free to speak our mind” in this age of digital democracy. Agree that it is a chaotic process because it is the sound of millions of voices! However isn’t it great that many voices put together can change the way that, not just everyday citizens think, but also how big corporations are forced into rethinking their attitude towards the ‘consumer’. I welcome this change; there is no understating the power of the collective voice/intelligence. But at the same time, I think the other side of the coin is, as you say, privacy and intellectual property (I am exploring this in my blog!). I am not sure how comfortable with “relinquishing control” on the web, but it is a area I still tread cautiously!
    Have a good one,

  6. Hi Priya and Consuelo, thanks for your contributions – greatly appreciated. As you both mention, the process of collective intelligence through digital media can be a chaotic process, especially when starting out, and with limited understanding. I guess that’s what makes this sharing of knowledge and critical analysis so important. Thanks for the link Consuelo – Google and google plus are great sources of collective intelligence. Yet at the same time, these platforms and mediums cause me to question the impact they have on our intellectual property and privacy as you mention Priya. I too, am possibly over cautious, as while our contributions may play a part in creating collective intelligence, we just don’t know how others could use this information, or have any control of it, once we put our thoughts out into the world wide web.
    Thanks again

  7. Hi Anna,
    Interesting topic!! I think it really depends. We share each other’s opinions and ideas through social media, in this stage, social media do help to build collective intelligent, but sometimes I see a lot of rumours, gossips, fake news, cyberbullying and flame wars in social media, which are really hard to control and defend. In this stage, I think social media are more like chaos. It is difficult to judge social media are collective intelligent or chaos, like you said, social media is more like “double-edged swords”. I think the challenge is how to shift the chaos into collective intelligent.

  8. Hi Cindy, thanks for your comments. I absolutely agree, perhaps it really comes down to the ways we use social media and how we harness the information gained online, to maximise the opportunities.

  9. Hi Anna, highly relevant and really interesting topic. I think another potentially negative side-effect of ‘collective intelligence’ can be if it leads to digital enclaves (de Sola Pool 1983) and echo chambers (Leonard 2004). That is; people use the internet simply to congregate with like-minded people and gain reinforcement of their own views and prejudices (Macnamara 2010, p. 88). I’d be interested in your thoughts on this?

  10. Hi Sarah, thanks for the highly valid point you raise. I tend to agree that online people are often likely to group with people of a similar mind, to reinforce their own views and beliefs. Just as in the real world, it is common for people to group with people who are like themselves, and have similar opinions and views. Perhaps this is part of human nature, but I believe it has the potential to limit the opportunity for true collective intelligence, and as you say, promote prejudices. I do wonder how often do we really critically assess and take on board others views online, that differ from our own, and do they ever lead us to change our original belief?

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