I’ve been using a series of writing prompts to write some of these recent blog posts. I’m helping a friend stay committed to doing the same even though content ideation has never been a struggle of mine. In any case, the very first one in the list is “Five Problems with Social Media.” I first started this by identifying the various things that I thought were wrong with social media but I came to a startling conclusion; there’s nothing wrong with social media… *waits for the onslaught of people who tweet at him that he has no idea what he’s talking about…
What I would suggest is that social media itself is not flawed (outside of some UX and some algorithms) but rather that there are significant flaws within people and that it is the users who bring these flaws to the individual social media platforms. So, rather than this post being about “what’s wrong with social media” it became “what’s wrong with people that use social media.” I’ll try to limit it to five things.
Tone and Purpose
People go on and on about how text messages and direct messages and posts and tweets can be so easily taken the wrong way. I myself have several times found myself in an online confrontation because someone thought I meant something different than I did. Let me give you an example.
Over the course of a single day, I spoke with three people about why they had become vegetarians. I am a “part-time vegan” as my wife IS a vegan (sort of, long story) and it’s just a lot easier for us as a family if we usually eat the same stuff. But, I’ll eat the ass end of a horse when I get a chance. ANYWAYS, out of five people that I spoke to, four of them had become vegetarians because of a significant other. I was struck by this. I suppose I should not have been as it’s how I came to it, but it started me thinking about how many of our loves, passions and habits are the result of the influence of our love life.
I decided to start looking at other things and see how partners have influenced these so I reached out to a friends girlfriend and asked if she had been a baseball fan before she met her boyfriend (they have the same fave team and it’s not a local team) or if she had started watching baseball as a result of his influence. She was intensely offended and her and several of her friends berated me for the sexist way I had belittled her hobby. I struck back, offended that someone was offended by something that I felt they had taken the wrong way. She blocked me on Twitter due (I’m assuming) to this interaction and it made me feel super uncomfortable interacting with her boyfriend. They moved and a friendship was more or less lost.
Now, I didn’t phrase it that way. I think I said “were you a baseball fan before you met Raul (not his real name).” You see, she wasn’t wrong. She was absolutely right. I blamed Twitter for it’s inability to insert tone and I blamed her and her friends for misunderstanding my message. But the fact is that you CAN inject tone and purpose into short messages. I simply hadn’t. Social media doesn’t create the problem, it merely allows lazy writing to live. Here’s the thing. Lazy writing and messages occur in every media format including in person. PEOPLE are lazy communicators and social media allows it, it doesn’t cause it.
The problem with social media is that people get to be anonymous, right? People get to be racists and bigots and sexists without fear of reprise. You’re on the other side of a keyboard, possibly on the other side of the world. Even if you use your real name, even if that name is Shawn Simoes, you’re still anonymous, right? And this is the first time in human history that people have hid behind something to make comments and remarks and statements of hatred, right?
Bricks thrown through windows in newly desegregated neighborhoods didn’t come with return addresses. Klu Klux Klan hoods don’t come with an avatar. The fact is that anonymity is not something that the internet invented. Cowardice and hatred have been around for a very long time. It’s a new platform for the same things to happen. It does provide a new opportunity, but it’s not what’s wrong with social media, it’s what wrong with people.
The average consumer expects a response via social media within 6 hours. A smidgeon of those requests are answered within 72 hours. Many go unanswered entirely. Consumers would cite a lack of service by the company but every company would argue that one of the issues with social media is that it provides customers with the ability to become more and more insistent about their wants and needs. Most companies would say that the problem with social media is that it’s immediacy supports the ever expanding demands of unreasonable customers.
Expectations are not a social media problem. They are a communication problem. They are a problem of scale. They are a problem created for those that are really bad by those that are really good. What do I mean? Companies that staff their social media channels with customer support are WAY ahead of the curve. When you get a response from a company that you CASUALLY mention, you’re blown away and this makes you think that all companies should work this way. And honestly, they probably should, especially those that have the resources to do so. Those that DON’T better have a damned fine reason. For example, I tell my clients two things.
First, if I don’t email you back within an hour, I’m dead, please call the authorities. I might not solve your problem in that hour. I may not have any usable response for you, but I WILL get back to you, almost always within an hour but certainly within a couple of hours.
Second, I’m a full time stay at home dad. Despite this and the fact that I spend ON AVERAGE 10-12 hours a day with my kids, I’m pretty responsive to my clients needs BUT I only have so much time. So, I will not be anyone’s emergency contact. Your website is down (and I didn’t build it) and you need it up this second? Don’t call me. You’re social media accounts got hacked and you’ve just been pushing porn gifs and malware for the last 6 hours? Don’t call me. I’ve set those expectations with my customers. Some don’t like this rule. That’s cool. They’re not going to be my customers. Most respect it. Social media doesn’t dictate my schedule or my ability to meet the expectations of my clients. I do. It’s not a social media problem. It’s a human problem.
On this one, I’m going to call straight up bullshit. I call shenanigans on anyone that suggests that one of the problems with social media is that it teaches poor communication skills. Turn down for wut? That’s right, lol. I don’t believe that poor communication skills are a problem with social media. People…are…lazy. Let’s take for example, doctors.
Doctors often don’t write up their own notes. Sure, a lot do now because they’re just entering a couple of things into fields on a web form. But in general, doctors write down notes and then they send those notes to someone else and that person takes their shorthand and turns it into real words. THIS is exactly what people do with social media. Lol – laugh out loud, rofl – rolling on the floor laughing, wtf – why the face… (PHIL DUNPHY YO). We transcribe people’s shorthand but they’re “normal” people and not doctors.
Social media didn’t make people lazy. Social media gave lazy people a platform. I would suggest that more people are writing more words in their everyday life than ever before. It might not be “worthwhile” content, but it’s still content. The other day, people were shitting on Twilight, which everybody shits on everyday and it’s not that uncommon, but every time I hear people talk shit about Twilight I speak up. And here’s why. Twilight, got an entire generation of people who weren’t reading, reading.
A couple years ago, I was doing some substitute teaching and if you ever want to bore a 13-17 year old, ask them to read. MOST hate it. SOME love it, but MOST hate it. But for a couple of years, these kids would walk through the halls of schools lugging 200,300,400 page books with them. Now, although those books were about vampires that look like they’re covered in those giant sugar crystals that Tim Horton’s puts on their donuts, but still, they’re reading.
The problem with social media platforms is not that they reduce people to the lowest common denominator of communication. The problem with people is that the vast majority of them always want to communicate using the lowest common denominator. Social media provides lazy people the opportunity to communicate. And usually, that’s good.
There’s too much content. More than 95% of the content in the world has been created in the last two years. That’s insane. The problem with social media is obviously the noise. There are two many people that don’t know what they’re talking about, talking about it. The problem with social media is that these people who WANT to be known for knowing things have a platform to share their “insights” and all that noise just adds up to more and more junk, to the point where it’s almost impossible to figure out what content is good, what content is bad, what is true and what is false. That’s true, but it’s not a problem of social media. It’s a problem with people that we can’t filter information.
When I joined Twitter, I heard about his whole “team follow back” thing (which is a bunch of horseshit) and how important it was. Obviously, EVERYONE that follows me deserves to be followed, right? Wrong. Social media etiquette does not require that you follow everyone that follows you. Let’s put social media in normal context.
Let’s imagine that Stephen King wants to read his children a good book. He’s decided against Cujo and Christine and instead has settled on But Not The Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton. That’s really cool that Stephen King wants to share Sandra Boynton’s work with his kids. But why would we require Boynton, who writes mostly children’s poetry about animals and bedtime, to follow King’s work when the genre and content is so (at least on the surface) drastically different. I say on the surface because as a stay at home dad, there’s a lot of horror stories involving naps, sharing and mealtime.
So why then do we think it necessary to follow people on Twitter when they content they are producing serves us no purpose. It’s not social media’s fault that we have no idea how to filter content. It’s AMAZING that so much new content is being produced. That’s not a problem. The problem is our inability to be discerning consumers of content.
I’m not suggesting that terrible things don’t happen on social media. Women, people of colour, the disabled or differently abled and every single person or group you can imagine are hassled, belittled and threatened. But social media didn’t do this. Social media gives THOSE people a platform to explain their challenges and their struggles. These people share their stories. They share their pain and their pleasure and their wins and their losses.
Social media is an amazing tool for every individual to share their story. The quality of that story, the grammar, the tone, the voice, the quantity; none of those things are dependent on social media. THOSE are YOUR responsibility. It’s YOUR job to be clear, to be proud, to be fair, to be smart and to only listen to people that are all of those things. Every problem you can find with every platform is that people are deeply flawed. And that’s fine. But let’s start to take ownership and stop blaming character limits, a lack of formatting options and algorithms for all the shit we do wrong.