October 4, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Amateur Coarseness Threatens Future of Social Media

Amateur Coarseness Threatens Future of Social Media

A clear and present danger exists to the advances brought on in recent years through the development of social media. The coarsening conversation apparent throughout the online media environment threatens to stall or even reverse important recent advances.

The ability of those outside of traditional media to speak directly to the public while enabling a constructive dialogue and audience conversation revolutionizes communications. Companies and individuals now have the ability to become publishers and broadcasters with very little skill or investment. In turn, readers, viewers, and listeners can interact with the content creators and even each other.

Ultimately, these advances provide an opportunity for more valuable content to be available online. Previously overlooked niches now receive abundant coverage from amateur media. Small and medium-sized businesses have a new outlet for reaching potential customers. Massive corporations can humanize themselves through effective social media outreach. Even old-fashioned media outlets now face viable competition in some categories from these amateur upstarts.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that social media has been achieving increased acceptance in corporate executive suites and with media editors and producers. This trend will abate, however, if the coarsening conversation continues to dominate large swaths of the online communications arena.

Comments on blogs and other media sites have always been opinionated. However, the level of personal invective seems to be on the rise. Recent articles online about the tragic death of former White House spokesman Tony Snow and the illnesses of Sen. Ted Kennedy and Robert Novak have brought out a bevy of online commenters who have reveled in the news. One anonymous blogger at DailyKos even manipulated and fabricated facts to allege that GOP VP nominee Sarah Palin’s newborn son was not her own, leading to countless blog posts and comments that can only be described as despicable.

The political universe does not stand alone in its coarseness, however. Check out sports blogs, for instance, and you will find rampant obscenities and a rash of juvenile blog posts and comments.

The world of technology itself produces more than its fair share of coarse conversation. The recent salvos between advocates of the DEMO and TechCrunch conferences did little to advance constructive dialogue, opting instead for the apparently preferred approach of finger-pointing and vitriolic rhetoric.

At this point, I would advise most major media outlets and larger companies that do anything even remotely controversial to forego comments entirely — either initially or at the first sign of trouble. At a minimum, it would be wise to restrict anonymous comments. Regardless of what my fellow social media evangelists may say, trash-talking, personal invective, obscenities, and rude behavior in comments do indeed reflect upon the brand or publication. Comments may still fill a role for smaller, niche publications, but they appear doomed to failure on a larger scale.

For years now, the stereotype of bloggers has been crazy young people living in their mom’s dark basement posting in their pajamas. That’s unfortunate as there are countless quality bloggers and social media creators producing useful material. But the increasingly rancorous nature of social media threatens to reinforce the stereotype and scare away newcomers — both in terms of participants and audience.

Those who decry traditional media as stiff and rigid and who praise social media as more flexible and responsive may be correct. Yet so long as social media participants continue to behave more like spoiled kids than polished communicators, traditional media will retain an edge with the broader public. The line between “authenticity” and coarseness can be quite fine indeed.

It is vital to remember that there’s a clear difference between “amateur” and “amateurish.” Finding high-quality content from new media sources while discarding the noise and vitriol has become increasingly difficult. Andrew Keen suggests this “Cult of the Amateur” threatens our society and economy. That’s not likely, as it will likely sink social media before it can accomplish that great feat.

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About The Author

Chip Griffin is the Founder of CustomScoop. He writes and speaks frequently about data-driven public relations. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.

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  1. geoff.whitlock@gmail.com'
    Geoff Whitlock

    This is a great post,
    People are now able to vet their inner most sanctums to the masses without tact. And as you have found, very few people actually have tact in an anonymous situation. However, we are at the whim of a new world online; billions are taking to this new place, this new way to vet their feelings. And we can’t hide.
    We need to take heed on these remarks and ensure that posters who break the rules of social conduct are persecuted, however, to cut off the channel completely really brings us backward in time.
    These channels will self regulate, and you can always remove comments that you find offensive.
    No matter what, it will keep happening, the days of hide and seek are over, the population will regulate the message, and most good people will place no relevance on belligerence
    Am am Geoff, and this is my opinion.

  2. jror@hotmail.com'

    I wonder what the impact on readership would be if comments are eliminated or restricted? Many of these outlets rely heavily on readership to bring in ad revenue… would that suffer?
    And while I agree with much of what you have to say here (especially regarding anonymous postings), I am also disappointed when I try to comment on any site only to discover that is either not an option, or that my thoughts will be queued for review… Is there an alternative? I wonder if those that dedicate time to reviewing comments after they are posted have found it too cumbersome.

  3. chel@vibemetrix.com'

    For as much as the social media community (thus far) talks about being careful online, a lot of people are not. There are a lot of people that don’t understand how technology and the shocking things they post online may affect them later.
    Until it’s taught early on (as it is at the Student Leadership Academy), that digital footprints are lasting; we leave it up to kids, college students and even some adults to figure it out.
    Discourse isn’t always civil and it’s much easier to be less so online where you don’t see the human on the other end of the screen or the hurt and shock on their faces.
    I joined a private virtual community during my first few years online that taught me a lot about social and community norms. With Twitter and blogs, there’s no one to manage the discourse except the blogger. Any attempts to shut down any type of conversation are met with furor and distrust.
    I would hope as people enter the space they’ll realize very quickly that while there are some very vocal and sometimes disgusting people out there. There is also the other side of the coin which includes some of the coolest and most intelligent people I’ve ever met.

  4. vex1_evil@hotmail.com'

    Yes there a lot of idiots commenting on serious issues. Yes people can lie and create controversy etc..
    It’s called freedom of speech, and I get a real kick out of people that think only those with tact and journalist degrees should be able to reach the mainstream.
    If you’re an idiot then you will believe what idiots post. Idiots are allowed to have their say too.
    As far as lies and exaggerations, untruths etc go, the main stream media has been doing it for years.

  5. mikotoscot1610@yahoo.com'
    Danny Brown

    I have to disagree here, Chip – there’s nothing really new here that you’re tackling.
    Instead of advising companies to have no comment options, a far more suitable and effective approach would be to filter and monitor comments. After all, comments offer some of the best communication companies can have with their customers.
    There’s also nothing new with your view that social media now offers “amateurs” a voice (apart from being a bit condescending).
    Online persona’s are simply an extension of our offline ones – someone that decries something online would do the exact same offline. The difference is that online, you still have the option to censor a comment before it goes live – offline you don’t have the luxury. Something you perhaps could have mentioned here?

  6. chip@chipgriffin.com'
    Chip Griffin

    Danny, thanks for the comment. Please note that I tried to make a clear distinction between “amateur” and “amateurish.” Indeed, much of the amateur content being produced is quite good — sometimes better than what the pros are doing.
    The problem with filtering comments is two-fold. First, it stalls the conversation unless an organization has the resources to approve comments in real time. Second, it arguably exposes the organization to a higher level of legal responsibility as it goes from being a platform for to a publisher of the commenter’s content.
    Further, I disagree that people behave the same online as offline. The ready availability of anonymity enables people to say things they would never dream of saying at the office water cooler.
    I also agree that customer feedback is quite useful. But there are other ways to get this besides public comments.
    Finally, I am not saying everyone should disable comments. Rather, I am indicating that organizations should carefully consider the implications, and that — as an industry — we should be thinking about how to address the long-term growth implications of the unsavory behavior I describe.

Comments are closed.

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