Social Media in Germany: 5 Years Behind? Hear Here!
There’s Something Rotten in the State of Germany?
Definitely, but not where the New York Times is looking!
Indeed, Blogging and Social Media are not as prominent in Germany as in the US. However, there is some teaching to do as to how and why. Germans are different in their mindset as to issues of security, privacy and news. In case anyone does not know: I am heavily biased – I’m German…
Before I go deeper into the differences between Blogging and Social Media are bigger in the US and Germany, let us see how “bad” the German condition of web2.0 is:
I could not find any comparable data on Blogs that was not in itself a travel into the past (although only two years, not five). Academic sources suggest (late 2008) that after the USA and Japan, Germany is the third most active country on Twitter.
So much for the public, how about that rigid bureaucratic government? When Angela Merkel (Germany’s head of state) started to put up videos on her website regularly, she was the first head of state with a video podcast.
So is it just that the country lacks the technology? Germany has somewhat lost its head start in developing eco-friendly cars to Asia (although it is still faster than the US), so maybe the same goes for the internet?
While I had been surfing at 16 MBit for about a year when leaving Germany last fall (with min. 2.0 MBit available in the most rural areas) at a reasonable price (50 bucks a month – flat, including phone service), it was a pain and novelty to find that speed in Seattle, although the city has caught up. Mind you, all that is lame in comparison to Japan!
So the technology can’t quite be it. What is it then?
The Media Landscape
As the NYT mentions, the big excitement about blogging in the US rooted in political blogs springing up in 2004. The country was in a deep division that does not exist in Germany. Except for political extremes on both wings, German society as a whole can be described as moderately liberal.
Aside from that, Germans to tend consider their news and broadcasting media as independent and of high quality (over the generally poor state of US Media and News coverage*). This is partially due to the fact that aside from private news organizations, there are organizations funded by the general (which means (almost) all!) public to do the work for which hardly anybody in the US private media is willing to pay. This means checking on politicians and government!
There is simply less demand for unpaid civilian watchdogs or “Social News”.
Social Networking sites do exactly what they are supposed to do (for Germans): They connect old and new friends and allow to communicate among certain smaller groups, take little peeks in other people’s lives and share a thought or two every once in a while. The simplicity beats all the extra features!
As a result of this media landscape, the majority of blogs have remained “personal journals”, which are looked upon differently in Germany than the US and are definitely not considered “trustworthy sources”.
A Culture of Privacy
While American culture is driven by individualist principles to a degree sickening to most Europeans, Germany does not support drawing attention to oneself. For this reason, personal blogs are looked upon as exposing or even narcissistic.
On the other hand, Germans are particular about their data – even worse than Americans with their Social Security numbers – in general and particularly online! I see the reason for the latter in dramatized media accounts of internet scams and the former in a fear of government control Big-Brother style. Therefore Germans will weigh critically where they release private data and hesitate at the smallest doubt.
Felix Salmon gives a number of additional explanations about the German mindset that you should consider, albeit keeping in mind that it might carry a slightly self-humoristic tone! One that I consider highly significant is his mention of qualification. He writes:
“If you don’t have a piece of paper qualifying you to opine on a certain subject, then you have no grounds for inflicting you opinions on everybody else. Similarly, readers want to be reassured of a writer’s qualifications before paying attention to what that writer is saying.”
Even after I have been to the US for almost a year, this holds true for me. I have read too much crap to waste my time on and I have to force myself to read blogs of people I don’t know, haven’t heard of or been referred to by somebody knowledgeable. Now, that might just be the academic in me, but generally comprehensive professional training (which necessarily has a certain breadth to it) is preferred over experience (which might have originated from a single branch in a field).
Although Blogging and Social Media are not as prevalent in Germany as in the US, this is not reason to worry about Germany’s online performance. For one because its cultural virtues differ from those in the US, for the other because despite this fact, Social Media is picking up in Germany (After Americanization and Californication now Internetization?).
For my own part, I am curious to see upon my return how much these developments have moved into academia (I’m prepared for the worst). Certainly, I will be able to bring in my experiences from both Kathy Gill’s Digital Journalism class on the future of news and my Social Media internship.
If you are German or American (or any other nationality) and have an opinion on this, please don’t hesitate to comment!
* If you want to pick a bone with me on that, shoot me an Email and we’ll get a drink over it