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Is it ‘social media is’ or ‘social media are’?

Social media - singular or plural?

Should we treat social media as a singular or a plural noun? The Latin scholars among us will point out that media is the plural of medium, and we should therefore use a plural verb with media. But English is not particularly accurate when it comes to Latin words. Data and bacteria, for example, are both plural in Latin, but are often treated as singular in English. So what should we do with social media?

In favour of treating social media as a plural, one could – and people do – argue that the term refers to several different communication channels, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest. And a lot of attention is given to how these various channels can be combined in various ways. In this context, it would make most sense to treat social media as a plural, as in these examples from The New York Times and The Financial Times:

Social media have had a truly revolutionary effect on…
Social media are not going to go away.
Most social media are perfectly suitable methods for communicating with investors.

But many more people now treat social media as a singular. After all, unlike most plurals, it doesn’t end in an –s! But more significantly, the various applications together form a new phenomenon or concept in communication. This leads many people to treat social media as a singular, as these examples (from equally reputable sources) show:

How social media is changing traditional reporting
Social media is what I’d call a romance contraceptive.
Social media isn’t just about collecting Facebook “likes” any more.
Social media is now the research tool of choice for headhunters.

So the answer to the question of whether you treat social media as a singular or plural depends on how you are using it. If you’re referring to a number of channels, then make it plural. But if you’re referring to the phenomenon that’s arisen because of them, singular is increasingly the way to go!

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