Effective communication requires the ability to read a situation for social cues. I spent a good chunk of time over the weekend of September 11th watching the 9/11 commemoration ceremonies on TV and reading Twitter and Facebook posts related to the events. I was also witness to some ugly disagreements. When people hide behind the anonymity of a computer, true communication often deteriorates. What is it about social media that encourages people to write insensitive things they’d never say to a person’s face? My rule of thumb is, ONLY tweet or post things you’d say to someone’s face. It’s “social” — public — so don’t make an ass of yourself in public.
Some people were tone-deaf to the general tenor of the posts on September 11th. One reporter/blogger who covers deals and startups apparently uses a service for automatically posting tweets, as she posted every five minutes exactly. The thing was, her tweets about an investment roundtable appeared in my timeline yesterday morning surrounded by heart-felt tweets related to 9/11. It was jarring to see posts so out of tune with the social stream. She’d have done better to disable the auto-posts, at least until the afternoon (when the football game-related tweets started to appear).
Media pundit and professor Jeff Jarvis tweeted his personal reminiscences from that day a decade ago. It’s a novella in Twitter, 142 tweets over the course of 12 hours, by my count. (That number refers only to his 9/11 story, not to his other tweets in response to readers’ questions or comments, or on other topics.) At one point he was shut out of Twitter for a few hours, for exceeding his tweet limit.
I noticed the huge number of tweets early in the day, when many of the people I follow were still silent. At first I thought, good heavens, how many tweets is Jeff Jarvis going to post? And then I realized, it’s only for today. One day. It will pass. And, as it turned out, I found his story quite interesting. You can read his whole report on both Chirpstory and Storify.
However, some of Jarvis’ followers heaped abuse on him for cluttering “their” Twitter streams, some swearing at him directly, others referring to “some folks” but the insinuation was clear. Jarvis defended himself:
Last month I wrote an article for the Sterling Communications blog with my recommendations for managing a Twitter stream to avoid over-posting and alienating followers. Some of these tips could have helped Mr. Jarvis from receiving such negative feedback. However, as he posted the next day:
What people often seem to forget is, just because YOU see these tweets and they are clogging up your timeline, others may not even notice. That’s the point of Twitter; conversations keep floating by and no one’s stream is exactly the same as someone else’s. If you are repeatedly annoyed by someone’s comments, then hit the “Unfollow” button. Even then, there’s no reason to insult the person publicly.
Tech analyst Michael Gartenberg, normally an avid tweeter, posted a note in the morning that he would “not be tweeting much today #introspection”— which I thought was probably a good idea. It let the people who care understand why he was not engaging with them.
Tone-deafness was not confined to Twitter. On Facebook, I was a silent witness to an argument that got very nasty and profane within a few posts. It ended with the person who initiated the conversation —about her plans to watch the Sept. 11th ceremonies on TV— “unfriending” the person who had questioned the need to watch TV coverage, after another person had also jumped in with insults. It was probably wise to close out the spat before more people joined, although unfriending was an extreme measure. (Hiding the person’s posts from your news feed is an interim step to reduce friction that is invisible to the other person, although it won’t prevent continuing comments on your posts). The whole brouhaha could have been avoided if the second person had simply held his tongue (or his fingers).
One of the few positive results of 9/11/01 was that, for an all-too-brief time, people went out of their way to be kind and courteous to both friends and strangers. I wish we could return to that level of civil discourse and behavior. I dread the verbal jousts I can expect as the 2012 election approaches.
What is your experience? Have you indulged in insult-fests with total strangers? How have you managed them?
Sept. 11 logo: Courtesy Trinity United Methodist Church