Monday, October 15, 2012

Miss Manners' Netiquette for Social Networks - Empath or Asshole?

My friend Michele Clarke posted a New York Times piece on Oct. 15 lamenting the death of all privacy in Twitter circles - using the example of a friend who invited himself to an intimate soiree where he clearly was not on the guest list.  Author Nick Bilton made the additional critical point that one need not be on Facebook or Twitter to become the victim of FourSquare, Path, and other applications that operate far more efficiently than the National Security Agency ever could hope to do.  As long as your friends include you in their circles, everything about your life is already known.  It's been clear for years, if not decades, that fighting for any type of privacy is a hopeless rear-guard action.  We might as well report all our activities to marketing data-miners and national intelligence agencies, be our own spies, eliminate the middle-disintermediators, etc.  We could look at Bilton's example of the pushy so-called friend in the opening paragraph, and wonder how people could ever get that ugly, but you know what?  Long before the Internet existed, there were assholes that were just as pushy.  You just didn't have them in your face every day courtesy of the always-on network of 'friends.'

But there is a flip-side issue that Bilton didn't get into.  Even if we are the victims of the intrusive personality online, how often do we play perpetrator through passive-aggressive activity of various sorts?  I'm talking about far more subtler things than the outright unfriending or blocking of people.  I'm talking about the failure of most folks to examine their own behavior for a lack of empathy for how their posts are interpreted by others.  The empathic gene is either activated around age 21, or it lies dormant as you become a bigger and bigger asshole.  These days, most social networks risk being swamped by assholes, as many seem unfamilar with the concept of how to be empathetic.

Yes, your Facebook or Google+ wall or Twitter dashboard is your own, and you should be able to determine what you say, without censoring yourself for certain communities.  If corporations spy on you to learn of your substance abuse or questionable friends, there's always Google+.  But it behooves us to go through some basics on how to be a good netizen, and keep in mind what it takes for others to treat you as a reliable (and kind) source.

It takes plenty of fortitude and tolerance to have a bevy of friends of varying political and cultural beliefs, particularly in a bitter election season like this one - but it's better than consistently preaching to the choir.  Maintaining a network of friends just like yourself is like living in a "safe" city (say, Santa Cruz or Boulder for a liberal) - it's a good way of avoiding stimulation and surrounding yourself with yes-people.  But expanding your posse to those unlike yourself means tolerating posts and counter-posts from people who have nothing in common.  If you comment on a post you disagree with, make that comment wry and humorous, and suggest that the person posting may not have full information.  Calling names is a way to invoke empty-headed cheerleading.  And if you see other comments you don't like, be careful about denouncing the friends of others.  If you denounce those that comment directly to your post, you will lose your own friends.  If you denounce other commenters on a friend's page, you are likely to be unfriended every time you attempt this.

Maintaining tagging circles or creating special interest groups is a great way to focus discussion on social networks.  Sometimes a person can be left off a circle by accident.  Sometimes a person asking to join a private group will be ignored without deliberate malicious intent.  But often, the slightest snub with a conscious intent behind it will cause real hurt in the victim.  Know your thick-skinned friends and your emotionally-needy friends.  When in doubt, be inclusive.

Unless you have a page that is a "fan" style page for an artist, band, etc., don't let all the traffic generated by yourself be about you.  Narcissism is tedious.  Only public relations managers use pages for self-promotion.  Talk about yourself, but talk about news or unique cultural things, and be sure to comment on others.  The less things are all about you, the more empathy you show.  Remember, if the movie of your life is going to be worth watching, you should have a cameo role or a walk-on part.  The stars of the movie of your life should be those that influence you.

Belittling should be left for the truly atrocious.  It should never be used for the downtrodden or underdog.  Sometimes, people will excuse the high-school style clique denigration (that sometimes leads to teen suicide) by saying, "Well, they were only 12 or 14 or 16 or 20 (or 30 or 40 or 50)."  If you're on a social network, you've just moved beyond cliques.  Act like a fucking grown-up, even if you're 13.  Or especially if you're 40.

One aspect of acting detached and somewhat grown up involves addressing every topic with a degree of cool, rational analysis of the Mr. Spock variety.  If you are emotionally clinging to tribe or team, using all-caps and lots of exclamation points, and injecting passion into every point you try to bring across, you inevitably act like a bigger asshole in the process.  Friends of mine are sick of my mantra, but I'll say it again: If an action comes from your body, or words from your mouth (keyboard), that originate in heart or hormones, filter them through your cortex for a minimum of 10 seconds.  Even if you hit your thumb with a hammer.  Does this mean we have no passion in our discourse?  Hardly.  Earlier today, I made a very cruel tweet that deliberately belittled someone and denied his humanity.  But I did it after coolly assessing the situation for many minutes, and deciding that my deliberate intent was to deny this person's humanity.  Sometimes we do make enemies.  But we should do so with detached and delayed passion.

Following these netiquette rules will not protect you from privacy-intruders, trolls, or insufferable assholes.  But it just might make you an easier person to deal with.  You don't have to smile all the time to be kind.  But if you tell someone they are probably mentally disturbed and need to seek professional help in just the right professional tone of voice, they just might listen to you instead of unfriend you.  And if they're assholes rather than empaths, well who needs assholes for friends?


Burkey said...

this was my favorite part:

"The empathic gene is either activated around age 21, or it lies dormant as you become a bigger and bigger asshole. These days, most social networks risk being swamped by assholes...."
Check this youtube on what happens to blood cells after emf exposure. I'M NO EXPERT! But Magda Havas is, from what I can tell..!

Defcon5 said...

Love it.

Loring Wirbel said...

Burkey, DefCon5, excuse the delay, I had comment approval enabled because of all the spam comment posts. Glad you liked it!

Loring Wirbel said...

Burkey, in re EMF and blood cells - in many ways, moving to an information society is conducting real-time experiments on ourselves. The end result is usually bad, but might possibly have good effects. Example - everyone in the 80s and 90s was saying constant channel surfing and video-game playing would make us a society of people unable to focus long-term. We certainly have become more superficial. But the rise of Kindle, Nook, iPad showed that people could indeed preserve linear thinking, and recent tests of response and whole-brain assessment shows that video game-players actually have improved overall intelligence.

Remember how people in the 1800s used to go to radium-springs to "take the waters"? I don't think that's a good idea, though some swore that small exposure to radiation made them feel more healed (antique version of rad therapy?). Maybe some will claim the same for non-ionizing RF exposure. I don't buy that, and think that less is better. But I think the multi-century trend of experimenting on our own bodies and own evolution sometimes has unexpected fringe benefits (which does NOT excuse the nuclear industry or RF-enabled consumer industry).