I am teaching a freshman class in applied writing: Social Media, Blogging, and Business. My students have identified a problem, one with which I’ve struggled with in recent months. Is the term social media singular or plural? It matters to a careful writer who wants to follow correctly with singular or plural verb.
Technically, media is the plural of medium. Following with a plural verb seems correct. Many Internet writers treat social media as a singular noun, probably because it does not end with the letter S. So many have done it, our ears now are trained. But are these writers ever correct? Yes.
The guiding principle is whether the noun refers to something countable, or uncountable.
When the noun is countable, it is correct to accompany social media with a plural form of a verb. This occurs when referring to the group of applications described collectively as media. For example, recently a student wrote:
Social media plays such a big role in our everyday lives that many of us wouldn’t know what to do without it. Just over the course of this blog post I will repeatedly check my phone, and look at Facebook multiple times to see what is going on with my friends.
This student is referring to two applications: cell phone texting and Facebook. A common trick for figuring out the correct form of verb is to replace the plural noun (social media) with two or more applications (texting and Facebook). It is now obvious as to the correct form of verb:
Texting and Facebook play such a big role in our everyday lives that many of us wouldn’t know what to do without them.
When the noun is uncountable, a singular verb should always be used. Such is the case when referring to the concept of social media. The term social media is sometimes used to describe the population of online or networked applications. It is a phenomenon, a movement. An example of this uncountable noun with singular verb is:
Social media is attracting much attention from anthropologists.
On a related note, the students in my Social Media, Blogging, and Business class have adopted an inclusive definition of social media. It describes the population of applications that enable online (or networked) discussion, participation and sharing. Each social media application enables interactive dialog, as opposed to traditional online applications that are essentially one way broadcasts. Connectivity and community are key aspects. If members aren’t always on, they are mostly on.
Professional and amateur videos uploaded to Youtube are examples of social media, but Hollywood movies stamped on dvds are not. Cell phone texting is a type of social media, but a mobile GPS is not.
I hope this discussion is useful to you.