Fear and Loathing in Social Media


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Shooting the messenger is apparently an eternal impulse, most recently succumbed to by the British Prime Minister David Cameron — who thinks that shutting down social media and messaging services is the appropriate cure for the U.K.’s rioting ills. It’s a little disconceting to see the British government align itself philosophically with, I don’t know, say, the Mubarak government, but okay, I’ll bite: is communication really the root of all evil?

I guess for some the answer depends on who you are and what people are saying about you, and I’d imagine there are days when any number of people, governments, and corporations wish the entire social-sphere of viral communications would go take a flying leap. But at the heart of the defensive “SHUT THEM UP” reaction is a major miscalculation of reality. Banning speech as a rule doesn’t foster affection — it fosters a deceptive lull of roiling discontent. It doesn’t change the facts — it just makes them less visible.

The British (and maybe Libyan) governments would no doubt argue that in some cases (theirs) social media is actually being used to incite and foment outrageous violence — egging otherwise placid citizens into committing normally unthinkable acts. And the power of social media to uncover and interlink voices that had lived in relative isolation really isn’t something that can be denied. But, as I would tell any company shying away from social conversation, the one thing that shouldn’t be actionable is ignorance. And if someone out there has a complaint, you are better off knowing about it.

Something tells me that the ease with which arsonists and looters were “incited” in England says something far more interesting and disturbing than, “Wow, social media is a powerful (and maybe dangerous!) tool.” It speaks to underlying societal problems that probably have more to do with economics, education, unemployment, and political malaise. But whatever the causes, the important — the intelligent — thing to do is find them out so they can be addressed. Not with a crackdown, but with an answer. The information age isn’t here to be ignored.

Defensiveness is rarely the brightest tactic, but unfortunately it seems to be the most common weakness of big entities confronting a time of open, and often viral, communications. “Buy that URL,” “Take over that Facebook page,” “Cease and desist…” These are not phrases designed to win people over; they are phrases designed to shut people up. And whether you look at that from an emotional perspective or a cooly rational one, angry or apathetic submission is a lousy goal. Far better to take criticism, ideas, complaints, even rants, and turn them into reasons to make your world, government, or company better.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Kate Schackai
Kate combines a technical understanding of web 2.0 with classic PR savvy, resulting in online communications that both humans and Google love. She joins Crawford from WordPress development firm TCWebsite, where she worked in online marketing and search engine optimization.


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