Okay, I admit it. I’ve been immersed in philosophy for the past two hours in a film called Examined Life. It’s a series of interviews with a variety of thinkers on things like ethics, ecology, interdependence… And I found it fascinating. It also prompted me to ask this question: Do we owe each other anything as participants in the various activities of social media?
At first blush, I thought “not really.” We enter into online relationship at the flick of a thumb, clicking yes to a request for a like or a follow. In many cases, even these responses are automated, so how could we possibly claim anything as complex as a social contract being involved in this interaction?
Yet, I pressed on. If nothing else, we all seem to have expectations attached to belonging to a group on Facebook or being the follower of an individual on Twitter. The way in which we anticipate our online compadre will act varies from one member to the next, but we all seem to have some idea of the behavior that is acceptable from the other.
Some people don’t want to have to put up with solicitations for someone’s product. Others would like to have actual dialog once in a while. There are those whose sole requirement is that the messages or tweets be entertaining. In my humble opinion, it appears that all of us want someone to pay attention to us and our communications.
Further, I wondered if two of these “contracts” ever conflict with each other. For instance, I’m a member of several tribes on Triberr, a social support groups for bloggers where we have agreed to tweet each others’ blogs links. So, then do we have more of a responsibility to our fellow bloggers to post the links regardless of the content – whether the post is interesting or not, relevant or not, even intelligent or not – or to the people who follow us on Twitter. Are we recommending the post by simply posting a link, and if the post is a snooze have we let our followers down and damaged our credibility?
I would say we’ve probably damaged our credibility, at the least, because I do think those who follow us expect some level of recommendation in the tweet but, admittedly, I don’t know that to be true. Perhaps, we as tweeters, have become so accustomed to links being constantly proffered that we can no longer be surprised by a tweeted link that seems completely incongruous with the personality of the tweeter as we’ve come to know he or she? Maybe we simply don’t care.
Do we have a social responsibility to be civil on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. or is it acceptable to rank, rail and degrade someone? This is a serious question. Facebook and My Space, in particular, have been the vehicles for many reported cases of cyber-bullying. We haven’t really put into place anything to restrict that kind of activity that I know of. I have been called names and stalked on Twitter and while you can block the individual from ever contacting you again, the harm is already done in many cases. So do we have an obligation to be respectful on social media or not?
In my view, whether we interact in person or online, the same social contract applies. I think we do owe our followers something and what that is will be similar to what we owe our acquaintances in life. I believe we do need to act with restraint as we express ourselves on Twitter and elsewhere. The lack of another’s presence in our space should not alter our behavior.
In some ways, I think this is analogous to the person who sends a scathing letter to the editor – anonymously. With certain exceptions, public safety being one of them, negative assertions about someone or something needs to acknowledged by the accuser. In the same way, we shouldn’t make derogatory remarks about another tweeter or Facebook entity, unless we’d be willing to say the same thing to their face.
That’s my opinion. What’s yours?