Is Social Media the Antidote to Folk Media?

Folk media. I heard this term for the first time today, while listening to a podcast of NPR’s “On the Media.” Christopher Hayes, Washington editor for the Nation, talked to host Brooke Gladstone about the prevalence of conservative (and often false) meme-spreading via email.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you’ve called this a viral form of, quote, “folk media”? What do you mean?

CHRISTOPHER HAYES: There’s this media that is peer to peer, is viral, goes from inbox to inbox and can have what is essentially a broadcast effect, without ever sort of surfacing up into the professional media.

In some senses, you have two parallel political narratives happening, and I think that’s increasingly going to be the case as the campaign carries forward. [Read the full transcript]

Hayes is unclear about the distinction between folk media, social media, self-publishing, etc., but to his credit, the term is introduced by Gladstone without ever being properly defined. Let’s confine it to the following:

Political folk media is exaggerated, sensational or false information, that is spread virally, peer-to-peer via email. Generally, it is in the written form, and is meant to prompt an emotional response from recipients.

If you want to read a few examples, check out, a blog containing the forwarded emails one man was receiving from his father. Why do these false memes spread like wildfire via email and not on social networks? The answer: networks police bad content.

Most of the information peddled in folk media is easily debunked by a quick visit to or Wikipedia, so why do false emails continue to spread? A few possibilities:

  • Conservatives think sites like Snopes and Wikipedia have a “liberal bias.”
  • Users trust the people forwarding emails, and therefore do not bother to fact-check before forwarding this information themselves.
  • People already believe the messages they receive, so that the forwarded emails serve the purpose of affirming, not informing.
  • Folk media participants are not critical consumers of web-based information.

Just some scattered thoughts on the issue. There could be positive applications for political folk media, but for now, it seems that folk media is then enemy of the truth.

Possible topic for next post: How social media-integrated email platforms can squash improve folk media.


One Response

  1. Folks, with the crash of Bear Stearns, maybe iit’s time to resurrect “The Nixon Flooding Plan” of 1973. But this window doesn’t take pdfs. What’s your email address???

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