Social Media, Thin Skins and Minions
Try saying the title of the post three times fast and you’ll see just part of the problem.
Social media used to be about the word “social,” as in interactions between human beings that, for the most part are civil – and made us all better for having been a part of them. At some point, I think this has changed in many ways. With the relative anonymity of email, a blog post, Twitter or Facebook, it’s now a whole lot easier to criticize someone. I often wonder if my own idea of the offline equivalent of social media, a circle of people at a party, would dissolve into name calling over a topic or a person who is not present. I doubt it because the face-to-face component of “social” means that a certain level of decorum is established and maintained. But what is increasingly being blurred is genuine criticism based upon solid opinions and some pretty thin skin that misinterprets it as an attack. And the odd involvement of third parties.
For some reason, perhaps due to the relative anonymity of the interwebs, people have begun not only to take personally what they perceive to be comments about themselves too seriously, but more bizarre, implied or overt criticism of other people. This is where it gets a little weird.
This week, there was a very public disagreement between Gini Dietrich of SpinSucks (among many other pursuits) and Rick Calvert of BlogWorld. The dispute did not even involve each other, but Chris Brogan of social media fame. If you are in social media, you know who Chris Brogan is. ‘Nuff said.
The past week, Chris Brogan was selling a Webinar for $47 about the inner workings of Google+. We still have some vestiges of capitalism in this country and Chris has every right to make an offering and see if people bite and fork over $47. But Gini offered a point of view that Google+ is in its infancy, still not even released to the public yet, so no one could possibly claim to be an expert, including Chris Brogan. She wrote in her post, Beware the Google Experts:
…But there are still people out there claiming to have all the secrets because they claim to have introduced Twitter to the business world so surely they understand how Google+ is going to affect your daily life. Add to that, they’ve spent 250 hours inside the tool, learning and using.
If that’s the case, I want their jobs because that means they’ve spent 11 hours, every day, for the past three weeks using Google+.
Sure, it’s my job to stay ahead of the trends and to understand them so that you can short cut your education. But it’s been 24 days.
Not everyone agreed. In fact, Rick Calvert of BlogWorld (respectfully) disagreed with Gini’s point and asked her to publicly apologize to Chris. Gini refused to and a debate ensued. His comments in the BlogWorld post (ironically, written by a third party) included the following:
Trust me Chris knows more about Google + and how it works today than just about anyone in the world. And yes I would bet other than taking care of his family it is all he has been doing since the day he got in beta.
“What she should not have done was use a good mans [sic] name to drive traffic to her post and associate his name with said snake oil salesmen. I’m sorry Delores but I don’t see how impugning Chris’ integrity is defensible…Gini consistently has, intentionally or not, besmirched Chris’ reputation and ethics. I still fail to see how that is defensible.
“I don’t see anyone who agrees with your opinion saying you did otherwise. You should apologize publicly. That’s my opinion.
So Gini said (and I am paraphrasing) that it was way too early to declare one’s self as a Google+ expert, and to do so was questionable. Rick countered with the fact that he thought that Gini was singling out Chris as a charlatan or snake oil salesman – and had in the past as well.
The BWE post does not number comments, but there are lot and you should read them. I did, and I even commented, to which Rick replied.
My point about all of this is that the “kerfuffle” (borrowing a word from Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson) a debate over a third person. So we are criticizing the criticizers and then an “amen chorus” follows in a stream comments? It’s like a wave of third party regurgitation washing up on the shores of social media island.
Bob LeDrew also weighed in in his own blog post this week:
What concerns me is that there seems to be a feeling that there are people whose actions are beyond criticism in the social media sphere. Criticism not as in someone is gauche, has bad breath, or is stupid. Criticism as in “this is an inappropriate venture”; “you’re wrong”; “The facts don’t bear out your argument”; or “you’re contradicting what you said last week. Which is it?”
I agree with Bob. There is snarkiness hidden behind a blog post and there is legitimate questioning – and then there is “slander” – a word that Rick used. They are all different. It’s a fine line that is increasingly being interpreted as open warfare I think that Gini made some legitimate points and that Rick is friends with Chris and felt the need to defend him. Again, the discourse was, for the most part, civil but I can’t help but wonder what started such a debate about a third party. I mean, Chris is a big boy and take quite ably take care of himself.
I have felt the wrath of others myself. Oh, boy, have I:
Yeah, I got snarky in March 2009 (post is entitled “Shut Up, Mr. Scoble” when the Scobelizer made comments about the public relations industry – that in which I have worked for more than 15 years, that include the following:
- “PR is dead. The way that PR is practiced is just..lame.”
- “Most of PR has ’sucked.’ If you think it’s not, just be a blogger for a little while. And watched the thousands of stupid-ass pitches flow through your screen.”
- “Anybody who pitches you on email is stupid. The chance that I am going to listen to anyone who pitches me email on frikkin’ email is one percent.”
- [Someone] showed me a block of wood…that was better than the stupid-ass pitches I get in email.”
- People who stand up for the PR industry, they just don’t get it.”
I took offense to this – big time – and my major point was the following:
If you become an A-Lister and make a good living (while many of very good public relations people in this country are being laid off, by the way) it is beyond self-absorption to complain about “stupid-ass pitches” that you receive because of the very notoriety that you sought, built and benefit from. You even mentioned that you get pitches from people who are panicked that their companies are going to go out of business – and call them “lame.”
I’m not enough of a A-Lister (hell, I am probably not a C-Lister) so Mr. Scoble never responded. But again, like the situation that I described above, a third person took up the cause for Scoble, John Aravosis in his own post, “Robert Scoble is Right“. Without naming me – I am the “one public relations ‘expert'” (but linking to my blog post – thanks for all of the click-throughs, John):
It was suggested by one public relations ‘”expert,” the one who posted the shirtless picture of Scoble, that Scoble deserved the spam he got because he’s a successful blogger [editors note: I was not the one who took off my shirt and had pictures taken. He did].
Regardless of whether Scoble, I, or anyone else wanted “the notoriety,” I’m not sure how that excuses a PR expert, who is presumably paid a good deal of money to promote their boss or client, from sending a bad pitch to the wrong guy.
PR Expert: I emailed Scoble and Aravosis the latest pitch about the new floor wax our client is selling.
Client: You asked a tech blogger and a political blogger to write about our floor wax? How does it help us get the message out there about our new product by sending it to people who we know, in advance, don’t even write about products like ours?
PR Expert: They’re A-listers and they wanted the notoriety – they deserve whatever they get!
That’ll be $50,000 up front, and $20,000 a month in retainer.
I am not going to revisit Aravosis’ comments – that I still disagree with – but again, this debate took place over a third person. Has social media devolved into a spitball match with a degree of anonymity in which we are not allowed to lodge what we believe to be honest and insightful criticisms of others without third parties taking us to task, defending their buddies?
I sure hope not, because then through legitimate discourse and criticism, the criticism becomes slander, the defensible becomes the indefensible and the “social” goes out of “social media.”
I sure as hell hope not.