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Cautiously Optimistic

Social media for better communication and a better life

Social Media: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

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Let's Call the Whole Thing OffThe other day I was catching up on my reading about social media and communication, and I started thinking about the old song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” In particular, I was remembering the line “you say EE-ther, I say EYE-ther.”

The song came to mind because social media is being presented as the source of a) “persuasion,” a positive outcome that justifies the billions of advertising dollars being spent with Google, Facebook, Twitter and other networks, and b) “manipulation,” a negative outcome increasingly pursued by repressive regimes such as those in Syria and Iran.

Persuasion, as I’ve written about before, is one of the tools of the trade for public relations practitioners. When you get down to it, all of us are persuaders, no matter what line of work we are in. We all have wants and needs, and we communicate with others in order to get what we want. From tweeting your need for a ride to class, to posting a YouTube video encouraging your friends to vote for your candidate, to seeing your agency’s online advertising campaign delivering increased revenues to your client’s business, we all use social media to persuade others to agree with us and/or do what we want them to do.

Manipulation, on the other hand, is a bad thing. It’s not something that “we” do; it’s an evil thing that “they,” the others, do. Author Anne P. Mintz’s new book, “Web of Deceit: Misinformation and Manipulation in the Age of Social Media,” looks at how manipulative individuals and organizations use social media to spread misinformation and propaganda on a scale and at a speed not seen before.

Jillian C. York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes in this Al Jazeera article about how Syria and Iran twist the features of social networks such as Facebook in order to identify and eliminate anti-government activists.

You say “manipulation,” and I say “persuasion.” So how do we call the whole thing off?

This great article by Adam Dachis of the Lifehacker blog on how to avoid brainwashing has some suggestions:

  • Identify the manipulative message you’ve received.
  • Find an opposing message, one that is as unbiased as possible.
  • Compare the different messages and see how you feel.

I think the third suggestion is the most important: “see how you feel.” We are smarter than we think we are. We all have the ability to think with our feelings as well as with our intellects, and so we should honor what our hearts and our minds are telling us.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

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Written by Charles Primm

February 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm

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