Friday, February 27

Asking Social Questions: Pete Cashmore

Pete Cashmore, founder of Mashable, which is a news blog dedicated to Web 2.0 and social networking news, asked an interesting question last week about human behavior. Does social media — specifically the immediacy and accessibility of information — change the way people act in an increasingly public world, and thereby make people nicer?

Diverse Reactions Suggest A Common Answer

"I think it may improve behaviour in 'public spaces' (that term deserves its own entry), and it may extend that improved behaviour to family and friends that could turn on us - I’m thinking of The Hoff’s daughter and Alec Baldwin’s daughter (yep audio alone can be embarrassing too.) - but this is a superficial change. Behaviour is about appearances. And changing behaviour does not mean changing intent (hearts and minds)." — Richard Weiser

"How you handle a differing opinion will speak volumes about you and can either enhance (or undermine) your personal credibility." — Sharlyn Lauby with online conflict tips

"It certainly can, if we use it properly - and, as the blog post suggests, the instant exposure of social media can help throttle down bad behavior. But people are people, and I think we’ll always see a mix of goodness and folly in any method of communicating." — Steve Woodruff

"The comments at the end of the article are mixed. I for one, do not think that social media makes me a better person. Maybe a person with more access to contributing my thoughts and opinions or a person with more public visibility or a person who is more careful of what I choose to throw around online, but not a better person." — Practicum Pioneers

"Social media doesn’t make us better people, but it does make us more conscious people." — Melissa at ZooLoo

"You hear too often about people getting caught in the act of committing unacceptable societal acts (i.e. most recently Michael Phelps). With people becoming more socially active on the Web, not only do you have big brother government watching, you also have millions of other people that are watching if they really wanted to. More than ever, you need to protect your reputation, because it can be tarnished in an flash." — Ismael Seguban

Common Answers Clarify Complex Questions

Two years from now (barring government restrictions), it's very unlikely we will distinguish Internet communication or social media from other forms of communication. It will become part of the whole, much like all other mediums eventually became indistinguishable as they were adopted. And, therein lies the answer to Cashmore's question.

Direct intervention, such as changing the environment as any new medium or technology does, influences behavior. However, direct intervention generally does not change a person's character. Only indirect intervention, such as nurturing specific ideas or encouraging specific choices so that people might choose to change themselves, instills a legacy of positive behavior.

In other words, while the immediacy, accessibility, and diminished privacy may influence the way we interact — knowing that any of our actions, conversations, and correspondence could be published for public consumption — it does not change human behavior or character. It only makes us temporarily more guarded.


Rich on 2/28/09, 5:11 PM said...

Famous off blog comments:

"My $.02: Social media can make nice people nicer but it also makes *ssholes *ssholier." — Shel via Twitter


Anonymous said...

Interesting - This subject was part of the scope of my recent research project. Personal experience was my prime motivation. My wife and I do a large portion of our shopping online and have come to rely on reviews. A bad review that seems reasonably written can and has changed my mind about a purchase.

I have even become sensitive to products that boast a lot of great reviews that seem similarly worded – and in such cases I explore with skepticism.

Gauging the popularity of review sites such as e-opinions I’m guessing I’m not alone – now we have blogs, social sites, forums, etc. It’s not hard to position opinions about products, services, brands, people, etc. on search engines.

Rich on 3/1/09, 8:51 AM said...


What's interesting to me is that you applied the concept in this way.

It's very similar to an example I used yesterday in class. Social media can change product perceptions very easily, but those perception do not always lead us to the truth.

It may seem off topic to some, but it is very much the same. People can act tolerant, but we never really know if they are tolerant. Likewise, people can act like they are consumers offering reviews, but it can difficult to determine if they really are consumers. Hmmm ...

I'll be working on something this year that I know you'll find interesting. If I don't have time to complete it, I'll share some of the thoughts behind it anyway.


Anonymous said...

I think social media, the immediacy and accessibility of information, only increases the opportunity for people to show their true selves. You are who you are, a nice person or an a@#hole. Social media is a tool to advertise it. For example, kids don't just taunt n bully on the school playground anymore. They continue this cruel behavior at home through social media. In some cases, this cruel behavior has caused kids to commit suicide such as Megan Meier, the Missouri teen who hanged herself after receiving hurtful messages on her myspace account. - Sara Springmeyer

JaElam on 3/2/09, 9:29 PM said...

I don't think immediacy and accessibility of information necessary makes people nicer. I do think that it makes people more conscious and aware of how they act in public. In some case they might think twice before acting up.


Anonymous said...

I'm over 50 so I'm not a member of the anything goes online generation. It's been a bumpy ride for me because I adhere to the ethos of civilized discussion, and yet, from time to time when attacked by kindergartens throwing verbal stones, I have taken baby steps that have crossed the line and used sarcasm to attempt to make my point. I have never been cruel but as of late I have been the victim of online cruelty.

What I have witnessed in the virtual world is exactly what your anonymous commentator has said: "I think social media, the immediacy and accessibility of information, only increases the opportunity for people to show their true selves. You are who you are, a nice person or an a@#hole."

Without doubt there are insecure people, who lack both the life experience and self control that prevents them from becoming mean spirited and openly hostile over trifling matters. And there are also others throwing cyber darts who are mentally disordered as well.

Sadly, I have become a victim of a self aggrandizing cyber a$$hole, who perceives that he has a petty grievance against me dating back to months ago. He has now launched a full blown cyber bullying attack on my reputation, replete with revealing my real name, and having his post stumbled by people who do not even know me, although I blog under a pseudonym. His aim is ti have me banned from a social network that I love being a part of; a community to which I have made a large contribution in contrast to his own fleeting and self-serving appearances.

My ability to make an income may be negatively affected by this online character assassination. My health has already been negatively affected (fibromyalgia flare-ups are triggered by stress and I'm allergic to all drugs that can be used to subdue the pain, reduce the swelling, and restore mobility). I'm also six moths into recovery from a head injury that's predicted to take 18 months to achieve full recovery.

I'm a strong person but today I'm sitting at this keyboard weeping and wondering if the validation I receive from my readers and true friends online is worth enduring the grief and the pain involved in continuing to blog, let alone continuing to participate in social networks.

Rich on 3/3/09, 1:33 PM said...


I wonder about that sometimes. While it provides people an opportunity to show their true selves, this predisposes they are comfortable in the space.

Sometimes, very nice people, when placed in a confrontational situation act very differently. This seems to happen regularly online.

I love the bully example, especially when we consider the primary motivation of most bullies — they are usually not mean, but fearful.

The Megan Meier case was especially interesting in that it was an adult who pulled the strings. Misguided people, indeed.


I think I'm inclined to agree with you, except in those moments when people are outside their comfort space.

What I'm not always sure is that monitoring every aspects of our lives is healthy, especially with the propensity to publish things out of context. I'd rather people be who they are without simply being mindful because they are watched. But that's me.


As someone who is familiar with your story (and once even had to report a comment left on my blog to the authorities), I sympathize even if I, personally, have not be subjected to it to the point that it affected me.

As your stalker resembles a very real stalker, I would encourage you to lay it on the line with him, and report it to any number of anti-cyber bully organizations, and in an extreme case, the authorities. Seriously.

Naturally, I might also offer that it is your best interest to focus on your friends, who will be the first to tell you that whatever he might have to say, would not disrupt their confidence in you. And, I would count myself among those. I think you know that.

Generally, when it comes to online bullies, they take two forms. Those who do not have any connection to the platform (and thus think everything they do is justified because they lack empathy) and those who know exactly what they are doing, and thus finding new avenues to abuse other people.

You do know that, yes? Public embarrassment is a form of abuse.

While this would require an entire post to really address this situation, the very first course of action is, though not easy, is to recognize that this person only has as much power over you as you allow. And, frankly, having watched his behavior, he should not have any power over you at all.

Keep the faith, TT. You will be fine.

All my best,

crpitt on 3/3/09, 5:36 PM said...

I wondered into social networking purely from a blogging point of view, so I had no idea what social media was at first.

As I have always had a personal type blog, I have never been anyone other than myself online, nor had it crossed my mind to behave any other way.

I see how easily people adopt an online persona and hide behind it. Luckily for me I have met some really great people through online interactions and would say on the whole this increasingly public world has been a positive experience for me.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, I do think that people change their behaviour knowing it may end up online, but not that much. I often hear the joke "oh and this will be on Facebook tomorrow morning" at parties when someone does something silly, but usually your friends know what is appropriate to post and what is not. While some of my friends and family carelessly post photos of the sort that other people have been fired for, others are more cautious. However, I think that in the long run being exposed to other people's faults and imperfections will make us more tolerant of those of our own - and those who work for us.

As for TimeThief, you have a solid reputation online with everyone who has ever known you. I don't know what your bullies say about you, but do people who have interacted with you actually believe them? I don't know. It would be hard to convince me of your wrong doings or what ever. I know how you operate. ;)

Rich on 3/4/09, 10:33 AM said...


Yeah, that makes sense. Many bloggers had no idea social media was sort of growing up around them as the primary platform — blogs — suddenly became social networks, sharing sites, etc., each with their own version of a community.

And you are right. I know several bloggers, specifically, who adopt a character persona. What some of them do not know, much like actors and actresses, is that, overtime, they can become the person they are acting like as opposed to merely acting. It's kind of sad.

People like you make it a positive experience for me. :)


Hmmm ... maybe they do. I used to think I did, but come to find out I'm exactly the same.

I learned how "same" I am online and off when I talked about a post I was going to share with a class and then read it to them. What was odd was that the conversation I used to tee up the reading and the reading were virtually the same. Enough so, I had to stop myself, laugh, and say ... gee, I guess I really do write like I speak, at least with some posts.

I really like what you are saying about faults and and imperfections. It's very valuable, eluding to the idea that maybe as we become more aware that we have them, then we might be more forgiving of others. Of course, I'm very biased about that because that is my kind of thinking ... I think our faults and imperfections make us more beautiful and interesting. How boring if everyone was the same.

Ad for TimeThief, I could not agree with you more. She's an asset at the social network. She knows quite a bit. And, she has a solution link list longer than the national debt if it were stretched in nickels, laid out side by side. Ha.



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