Posts Tagged ‘internet’

I often say that I assume everything I put on the Internet is public. Some sites are explicitly public, like this blog and my Twitter account. Others aren’t quite as obviously public, like when I post to my friends only on Facebook or on a members-only forum. But ultimately, everything I post on the internet is just a screen shot away from being 100% public, so I operate under the assumption that it’s public and go from there.

What I don’t think I’ve talked about is our interactions with other people on the internet, and how they are affected by being online.

Following from my earlier rule of everything on the internet being public, our social interactions with people on the internet are also often public. But I’ve noticed that we often appear to forget this is the case. And trouble ensues as a result.

Photo Credit: CasualCapture via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: CasualCapture via Compfight cc

I’ve compiled a list of internet social etiquette ideas derived from this principle:

1. Personal conversations on social media: Let’s say you and a friend are catching up at a coffee shop and talking about your personal lives. And then let’s say you find out the guy at the next table over has been recording your entire conversation. Creepy, right?

But you are doing the same thing to yourself when you have personal conversations on Twitter, on comment threads, or on Facebook walls. Those conversations are recorded for all to (potentially) see. So make sure these are conversations you wouldn’t mind having the rest of the world overhear. More personal conversations might be better suited for email or various messaging options (IM, Facebook messages, Twitter DMs, etc.).

2. Criticism on the internet: When you criticize someone on the internet, you are doing so in a public forum. This is much more likely to make the person being criticized feel threatened and defensive, and to result in non-productive communication. Sometimes public criticism is appropriate and meets your goals; other times, not so much. Consider if you’d feel comfortable making the same statements at a party, in a group of friends, or even on a panel. If the answer is no, you can always say something privately to the person instead.

3. Are these people worth your time? In public, when I meet people who are egregiously rude to me, don’t listen to what I have to say, and are espousing a lot of ideas I find offensive, I tend to cease engagement with them. I know I’m not going to change their minds, I know I’m not going to change their friends’ minds, and I know I don’t want to be treated poorly. Comment threads are often no different. They are not always worth your time. And having to engage repeatedly with such people is definitely not worth your time. What do you when at a party with such a person? You excuse yourself and you avoid, avoid, avoid. Doing the same thing on the internet is totally allowed.

4. Am I causing harm? Holding a private opinion and making a public statement are two very different things. Once you decide to turn a private opinion into a public statement, you have to consider both your reach and the effects of your statement. This requires a lot more reflection and research. Do your very best to get the facts. Use sources that have solid credentials. Consider consequences. I don’t think any of us wants to be responsible for the resurgence of measles in the United States, and most of us don’t have a reach as big as Jenny McCarthy’s, but the consequences of public statements are real and something for which we share responsibility.

5. Public mistakes require public apologies: We all screw up from time to time. But if you accidentally make a mistake on the internet, you need to make amends publicly as well. A private apology is all well and good, but not enough if the social interaction in question was public. And if you’ve broken someone’s trust in public, expect to have to work hard to regain that trust.

What are other common social pitfalls on the internet? Any suggestions on how to handle them gracefully?


Read Full Post »

Our notions of privacy are currently changing due to technology, and it’s an interesting time if you enjoy watching social trends. For example, head on over to Nathan Bransford’s blog and read his fascinating essay “Divorce in the Internet Era.” He gives us an intimate peek into how the experience of divorce has been changed by social media.

It’s not just divorce that has been affected. Social media has also transformed our ideas of social connection, of friendship, of the purpose and maintenance of strong ties vs. weak ties (ie acquaintances and people we met that one time–when was that?–and in a flash of enthusiasm connected on social media). It has affected how we do business, how we try to connect with a more specific audience, how we can succeed at marketing, and how we can fail. It has spawned the 1000 true fans theory.

And now with the announcement of Google Goggles (known officially as Project Glass), we see another potential radical social change: a world in which our goggles tell us everyone’s names and pertinent information when we meet. A world in which remembering names is less important. A world in which I can make notes for instant reference the next time we meet: “possible kindred spirit” or “didn’t bother to ask me a single question during a thirty-minute conversation” or “really likes discussing neuroscience but becomes enraged at the suggestion that humans don’t have free will.”

My own personal ideas of privacy have changed along with the times. Every time I post on the Internet, whether that be here on the blog or on the myriad of services I am encouraged to use, I try to remember to run a little filter check. If the whole world knows I said this, would I be okay with that? If the answer is yes, I’m good to go. And every time I remember to run this check (which probably isn’t 100% of the time because no one is perfect), I develop and refine my ideas about my own privacy, about what I’m willing to share as public information vs. what I wish to remain private. In a certain way, our society is shifting back to a village mentality, that there are certain things that everyone simply knows about everyone else. And anything we want to keep to ourselves, well, we have to really work at it…and some facts, as Nathan Bransford found, are impossible to keep under wraps.

I’m hoping this shift will come with a lessening of certain stigmas and an increased tolerance for difference. I have to hope for this because the alternative is not a world in which I want to live. Perhaps we’re already seeing evidence of this shift: contrast the open statements about President George W. Bush’s past alcoholism and President Obama’s past cocaine use with President Clinton in the ‘90s who felt it was necessary to claim he “didn’t inhale.”

On Twitter, Catherynne Valente said, “The Google Goggles herald the final death of any semblance of public manners and social courtesy. Hope we enjoyed it!” But I wonder if all these changes might eventually lead to a new kind of civility. Will there be certain secrets we allow each other to keep out of sheer politeness? In a world where everyone knows each others’ names, will our sense of community change? Maybe even expand? What kind of courtesy will be possible when we can have a computer keep track of our acquaintances’ interests and news and automatically remind us of them when we’re in conversation? Will intimacy feel like it’s shrinking (the way some people feel social media is causing it to do right now) or will it feel like it’s increasing?

It’s going to be really interesting to find out! The one thing I’m betting on is that we’ll have a bumpy transition as what is possible from technology changes at a different rate from society’s attitudes about privacy and social interaction. What do you think? What about this new world do you look at with dread? What about it sounds like it could be amazing?

Read Full Post »

When we think about social media, it is important to remember how much the internet, and the ways we interact with it, are evolving. The rate of change is fairly rapid, and because of this, it is easy for conventional wisdom regarding best practices to fall behind.

Think about it: the internet is still fairly new. Some of us might have trouble imagining life without it, and yet the first commercial service providers didn’t start up until the late 1980s, just a bit more than twenty years ago. Google got started in 1996-1997 (about 15 years ago); Livejournal began in 1999 (12 years ago); MySpace was founded in 2003 (about 8 years ago); and Facebook launched in 2004 (7 years ago). All of these services took time to develop and find their audiences. So even experts in social media haven’t been doing it for very long, because not long ago, nothing existed to do.

What this means is that there’s still a lot of space for experimenting, being creative, and developing your own unique way of using social media. Take, for example, the author Tobias Buckell. A year ago, contrary to all advice, he decided to shut down the comments on his blog. Experts told him that this was crazy talk, that he needed to enable comments on his blog to encourage conversation and engagement with his audience. Some people went as far as to say that without comments, it wasn’t even a real blog any longer. But Tobias was feeling drained from all the time and energy he had to spend moderating the comments, and he was censoring what he allowed himself to talk about as a result.

He recently published the results of his experiment: he went from 20,000 unique visitors/month when he shut off comments to 100,000 unique visitors/month a year later, which is the highest traffic he’s had in the seven years he’s run the blog. And he sounds happier because of it too, saying: “It’s really been a lot more fun since I starting letting myself be myself.”

So obviously the conventional wisdom that a blog has to have a commenting option, and that you can judge a blog’s impact and degree of engagement by looking at how many comments are being made on it, is flat-out wrong in this case. Yes, the experts were wrong. Would the no-comments approach work for everyone? No, probably not. But apparently it’s not the deal breaker everyone thought it was.

When considering my own use of social media, I find this distinctly comforting. It’s human to hit a wall sometimes. I’m sure many of us have a social media tactic that we’re “supposed to do” but makes us cringe. I’ll tell you mine, although maybe you can already guess. I’m supposed to write blog posts that are less complete and leave more room for all of you to respond. (And I love it when you respond, really I do.) But right now, it’s hard for me to even consider being less than complete–the thought makes my inner perfectionist rear up and ululate in horror. I imagine a blogging horror story in which I deliberately delete something I really wanted to say in order to leave it for someone else to say, and then…NO ONE SAYS IT.

An example of ululation.

I know, I know, clearly I have my work cut out for me. In the meantime, it’s reassuring to think that I am sometimes allowed to experiment with a more essayist approach to blogging, even while I’m trying to improve my conversationalist style of blogging. And I hope you find it reassuring to know that if you can’t juggle five different social media platforms all at once, the world won’t end. And if you just don’t “get” one of the popular services, you can maybe just skip that one or do something completely different from the norm when you use it.

So, time to dish. I told you my social media cringe-point; what’s yours? Is there a service that you just can’t get into? Is there common advice that makes you want to throw your laptop across the room? Is there something that, if you allowed yourself not to do it, would make you enjoy social media more or allow you to be more authentic to yourself? Let loose below.

Read Full Post »