The Fallacy of Transparency in Social Media


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Social media transparency

Spend any amount of time around social media conversations, and one word usually pops up more than any other – transparency.

People talk about social media empowering consumers, because now brands have to be “transparent” in every communication.

People talk about social media sorting the wheat from the chaff, because Google is their friend and ideas can be challenged.

People talk about snake oil salesmen losing their grip because transparency (or lack of) will eventually show the frauds from the real deal.

All good ideals. All good hopes. If it were really true.

Transparent Only If We’re Allowed to Be

The thing is, this whole “transparency thing” in social media isn’t actually happening, because we’re essentially not allowing it to happen.

There’s this unwritten rule in social media that it’s best to focus on what you can achieve versus calling out fakes and bad practices. It’s the way the social web works best, folks say.

And that may be true – but then that approach also dilutes the whole transparency argument too.

For example, there’s a very well-known blogger-turned-author in the U.S. that talks a lot about community and how humble he is to have one of the best. Yet the same blogger is quick to send nasty emails to people who don’t gush over his book(s).

Then there’s the Canadian social media guy who talks a lot about how to be active online, but – much like his American counterpart – sends rather nasty emails and direct messages on Twitter to folks who dare to question his approach.

You’ll notice I didn’t refer to these two people by names (and there are many more like them). Because, as I mentioned earlier, it’s just not done in social media. People call you a hater, and you’re seen as unprofessional.

Transparency, indeed.

Rewarding Silence

Yet should we really care? After all, as so many people say, we should concentrate on what we do, right, not what others do?

The thing is, if we do that when the behaviour of some people verges on bullying, by staying silent we’re encouraging this behaviour. We’re essentially saying, “You know what, you continue to show one face in public and a completely different one in private, because it doesn’t affect us.”

But it does affect us.

It’s our friends that are being picked on. It’s our colleagues that are being affected. And, most importantly, it’s our morals that are being compromised by staying silent.

So what do we do? Do we do anything? Do we contact these people directly and say we know what’s happening and try stop it? Do we publicly question them? Or do we continue with this idea that social media has made everything transparent, so leave the status quo as it is?

The decision is yours.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown is partner at Bonsai Interactive Marketing, a full service agency offering integrated, social media and mobile marketing solutions. He is also founder of the 12for12k Challenge, a social media-led charity initiative connecting globally and helping locally.


  1. Danny, thanks for a provocative post. The points you made about social media could be said about most any industry, topic, political party, etc. Believers are “open” to discussion so long as it doesn’t challenge the fundamentals of that belief.

    While social media has been a sort of “sunlight” on companies and their practices, it hasn’t served the same role for those worshiping at the social altar. Simply put, you don’t go to church to have your faith challenged, you have to go somewhere else.

    In the case of social media, this is ironic given that the Social Web makes it so easy to get different points of view. One might think it would lead to more open minded people. But groupthink is alive and well. It’s all too easy now to seek out those who agree, and diss those that don’t. Not the fault of social media, it’s just human nature.

    I wrote about this in Dangers of social groupthink: A case study in Enterprise 2.0, Social CRM and Social Business

    These days it’s all too easy to find and join a group that supports a certain mindset. If critical thinking is not encouraged, then it’s not surprising to find a social network of your colleagues can becomes a sort of echo chamber fostering “groupthink,” a term coined by Yale psychologist Irving Janis nearly 40 years ago.

    Groupthink means members of a group try to avoid conflict and reach consensus without critical analysis. It's like everyone becomes a cheerleader for a POV. If someone in the group has doubts, they keep it to themselves to avoid criticism or risk exclusion from the group.

    On CustomerThink, I encourage respectful debate on any topic, even the core idea of the community: customer-centricity. Some have challenged the very idea, and it resulted in a great debate and deeper understanding. Although I’m not sure any minds were really changed!


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