By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Rory O’Connor to read from his new book

Backscratching Day festivities continue with my interview at with old friend Rory O’Connor. The occasion is O’Connor’s excellent new book, “Friends, Followers and the Future: How Social Media are Changing Politics, Threatening Big Brands and Killing Traditional Media,” published by City Lights.

O’Connor will appear on Tuesday, May 22, at 7 p.m. at the Brookline Booksmith to talk about his book and sign. His book grew out of a semester he spent a few years ago at Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center after stepping down as editorial director of NewsTrust. The idea behind NewsTrust was that an online community could identify and evaluate journalism with respect to sourcing, fairness and the like. Unfortunately, O’Connor discovered that too many of the people who joined NewsTrust were pushing a political agenda.

Among the more provocative ideas that O’Connor discusses in “Friends, Followers and the Future” is that Facebook is actually a fairly effective platform for sharing diverse sources of information, since members tend to cultivate a lot of “weak ties” with acquaintances whose political views and life experiences may be quite different from their own.

The larger issue, in O’Connor’s view, is trust. We no longer fully trust legacy media, whether it’s the New York Times or Fox News. Facebook, Google and other online services present their own trust issues. “But I’m optimistic,” he concludes, “that ultimately the ongoing digital information revolution will help us not only to trust, but also to verify.”

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  1. I’d have to disagree with the “weak ties” argument, at least in my case. (And it may be unique.)

    I don’t have a lot of Facebook friends but they’re mostly people whose political views and life experiences mirror my own – liberal, middle class, college graduates, professionals. They’re people I know from college or work or from theater blogging.

    Maybe it would be different if I had more childhood “friends” or a big family. I’m sure I know people who don’t share my political views but if they were that opposite, I don’t think I’d friend them on Facebook!

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Esther: I think homophily is something you have to work at avoiding. I’m connected online with a number of conservatives, but the forum really seems to matter. Several conservatives I really enjoy talking with on Twitter who never pop up here, for instance.

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