Intercultural Communication and Social Media
Recently we have been looking at intercultural communication here at Social Ignition and one of the most interesting aspects of it in relation to social media is looking at how some forms of communication online are completely specific to certain cultures. This of course is entirely separate to actual tools being specific to certain cultures, as well as geographical areas and languages. Sometimes it’s amazing we manage to communicate globally at all.
Social Media is All About the ‘Same-Same’
When it comes to communicating with others online, most of us tend to stick to people within our own cultural group. For those of us in Western societies, it’s easier to communicate and connect with others who experience the same culture and language. It’s very rare for most of us on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube to go searching for interactions or posts from those who have a completely different culture. One reason is due to the language issues, another is that they’re likely to be using different tools from us (Orkut, RenRen etc), but generally it’s simply that it’s easier to communicate with those who have similar interests to us. Social media by it’s very nature does this extremely well. Imagine yourself at a cocktail party – you’re likely to look for those around you who are most similar to you in order to start a conversation. Social media works in exactly the same way. You seek out others like you. You ‘like’ someone or something on Facebook that interests you and you follow people on Twitter who like talking about similar things as you. What then does this mean for social media’s impact on intercultural communication?
BaFa BaFa – Making Sense of Others Online
Some of you may already know what BaFa BaFa refers to, but for those of you who don’t, here’s a great page that explains it well. Essentially, BaFa BaFa is a cultural simulation game where two groups, the Alphas and Betas must learn to communicate with each other, where they can only use a language that one group knows. This means they need to try and learn to communicate, understand and trade with each other when they’re completely foreign to the opposite team. The simulation is essentially similar to how it would be walking into the jungle somewhere and encountering a tribe who you had never met before and who had a very different culture and language to yours. The aim of the simulation is to analyse what it means to encounter another culture and look at some of the difficulties in communicating with them and understanding them. When you think of this from an online perspective, we could be using the power of the internet to attempt this, but so few of us do. Again, as mentioned before, it’s almost as though we’re content and happy in our own little social media bubbles and we don’t need to go looking for anything too different.
Social Media and Social Interaction
Even within similar cultural groups, there are obvious examples of difficulties in communication based on the language used in social media and the tools used also. Social Ignition set up a test Twitter account a few months ago to use as an experimental account about Twitter interaction and follower numbers. This account was set up under the guise of an African-American individual, who participated in a number of ‘follow-back’ schemes to gain followers. As was expected, the follower numbers grew far above the regular Twitter rate, however, what was also interesting was the culture that became more and more apparent due to these followers. Many of the followers were also of African-American heritage and the culture and language they promoted was very stereotypically aligned with an underground or ghetto culture. The language used and the tools promoted were heavily reliant on these stereotypes and it was difficult to integrate within the group when the language used wasn’t seen to be ’suitable’ or a ‘good fit’. The problems of communicating with different cultural groups and having effective intercultural communication was quite evident, showing that intercultural communication issues can exist even between those who share a similar societal group.
Can Social Media Help Us Communicate Better?
What are your thoughts about social media and intercultural communication? Have you really thought about how you communicate online and how the language and tools you use effect the persona you’re creating and the communities you’ll be part of? When it comes to intercultural communication, the BaFa BaFa simulation is a perfect experiment that addresses how people can learn to communicate even when the language they’re using isn’t familiar to others. We start to assimilate where possible and accommodate to others in order to reach out to them, but are we ever truly part of the ‘in-group’? It would seem that generally, the answer is no. Although we may on the odd occasion attempt to ‘cross-communicate’, we are mainly quite content to remain within our comfort zone and look for similarities when using social media. The next time you’re on Facebook or on Twitter, think about who you’re liking or following. Are there many people on your lists who are from a completely different culture to yours? If not, why not? Perhaps we can learn from this understanding of difference and when using social media, attempt to make the gap smaller between ourselves and others. Social media is all about conversations, people and community. Maybe we need to expand it to encourage more of us out of our comfort zone and into communicating across wider cultures than we currently do.