Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Is There a Social Contract in Social Media?

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?



    If you and I meet,
    share a table and break bread
    in a little corner of
    the Cyber, that is all there is
    of lasting import

    Hearts across time,
    in the eternal

    --Jo VonBargen 2012

    Let the words exchanged
    be civil ones, preferably words
    that reflect our core of love.

  2. You just brought the biggest smile to my face. I love that image of the table and breaking bread. What a lovely person you are, Jo. Thanks.

  3. What you've described here is the primary reason I was uncomfortable in joining Triberr. I feel a responsibility to only pass on links to content that I personally feel are valuable, informative, meaningful or interesting. And I agree that the lack of someone's physical presence is no license to be rude. Manners matter, whether it's face to face or in cyberspace.

    1. I'm having some problems with what I pass on to my followers through Triberr. I don't have time to read all of the posts, and I'm finding myself passing on links for things I wouldn't read myself. Thanks for your feedback on that. Also, I think manners are very important. I'm especially distressed when I see someone being "shouted" down.

  4. I do not think I see it as a contract per say. If I find something objectionable to me I will neither tweet the subject nor will I pass it further down the line. As the lady said above it is a form of breaking bread together, but good table manners are essential. I have never believed in rude manners or behavior and I don't care for people who limit their vocabulary to vulgarity in an attempt to sway another's opinion or just to make themselves disagreeable. State your opinion with eloquence and move along. The posts or tweets are a two way street and should be conducted as if you were standing face to face with friend or foe. Respect in all matters should be exercised. I see all my followers as friends and value each and everyone.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Michael. I agree - treat this as if we were in the same room.

  5. +1 for Diane. I've been using Twitter for a few months now, and I'm getting ready to launch a historical fiction novel (how remains to be seen). Although I hadn't reached the level of considering the Social Contract, I've been thinking quite a bit about these ideas. (Just because I've been thinking doesn't mean my thoughts are worth much, though. I haven't "figured it out".)

    I'm not a "real-life friend" with anyone on Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest, and that's probably true of almost every user of social media (SM). Of course there are exceptions. But as far as I can tell, SM at its worst is a pernicious form of narcissism -- the only way to rise above the galactic ocean of chatter is to 1) be famous already, or 2) say something SO outrageous or funny or snarky that a bunch of people "follow" you out of some misguided desire to be associated with your "success". I hate to use the Kardashians as an example, but WTF?!?!? Have you seen the number of followers that family has? There's only one word that can describe it: Sick.

    At its best, SM seems to be a pretty good marketing platform; and in that sense, more power to the Kardashians.

    Regarding independent authors, there seems to be -- no, there IS -- a movement of sorts that wants us to herd ourselves into some kind of collective self-congratulating, retweeting, mutual "like" society -- on the basis that this is how we will rise above the froth and sell books.

    I think I disagree -- but in college the frat boys called me a "God Damned Independent" and the only thing that's changed since then is that I write better, so don't take my word for it. But I share your concern about damaging one's credibility in an effort to boost someone else's.

    And now, back to the Twitterverse...

    1. I relate to much of what you write. And I do agree there is a herding effect with independent authors. The only good thing about that is that over time we tend to make true friends among ourselves and often our readers. Honestly, I have online friends that would do (and have done)more for me than members of my family. Sad but true.

      You are right on about the Kardashians - a good example of what I was referring to when I mentioned "entertainment only". However, once you carve out your place is SM, you'll find those people aren't who you interact with anyway.

      Wishing you the best on your publishing venture. It's a tough row to hoe, but worth it.

  6. I agree with you that we should treat people on social medai sites with the same courtesy that we would treat them in person.
    As to triberr and retweets, I don't always agree with the tweets of my triberr mates, but the deal is to retweet all the tribe members tweets. If you disagree with them too violently and or often, it is time to rethink the associatuon.
    As to my own retweets, I only retweet tweets that I agree with, or like. Maybe some of my followers don't like them. I don't know.
    Different people have different reasons and goals for social media sites. We should remember that there is a person, behind most avatars.

  7. Louise - Your last statement is so important. Yes, we often think of the avatar as the persona, forgetting the human. Thanks.