When people talk about the promise of social media, they often praise tools like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter for their ability to connect people, to remove barriers, to let us tell our own stories unfiltered and unmediated — to show us as we are. Yet Sarah Palin’s reliance this week on technologies like these shows us an ironic truth: making each of us our own broadcaster doesn’t necessarily make us more open, accessible or responsive to the outside world.
Jonathan Capehart nailed it today when he said that Palin had “emerged from the protective cloak of Twitter and e-mails to Glenn Beck to speak directly to the American people” and answer the criticism that has come her way since this weekend’s shooting in Arizona. A social media channel as a shield from prying eyes rather than the modern incarnation of the panopticon? Not a portrayal we commonly hear of Web 2.0 (its potential to allow “oversharing” is a far more common critique), but one that can be just as accurate, particularly when we’re talking about public figures.