Cautiously Optimistic

Social media for better communication and a better life

Posts Tagged ‘Adam Dachis

Social Shaming in the Era of Social Media

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Morality is defined as the distinction between right and wrong, between good and bad behavior, and how these distinctions affect behavior.

Humans are moral beings, with highly-honed senses of right and wrong and an inclination to enforce good behavior while punishing bad behavior. A Slate article on a new book by Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” explores how a sense of morality is one of the ways to understand political behavior and how people choose their political party affiliation.

Haidt’s book proposes that both Republicans and Democrats are interested in equality. Republicans are more motivated by equality of opportunity, while Democrats are more motivated by equality of outcomes. And since all of us think of ourselves as moral, those in the other political party, by default, are “immoral,” thus much easier for us to demonize.

I was thinking about this sense of morality when I read a Lifehacker article by Adam Dachis on “How to Deal With People Who Cut In Line.” I suspect that, for most of us, witnessing someone cut in line is the kind of moral transgression we’re more likely to see over the course of a day.

Social Shaming, Social Media | Image via Slate.comAnd as more of us use our smartphones to “check in” on Foursquare while waiting in line for our morning latte, I have to wonder: are we more likely or less likely to notice line-cutters?

Even though our phones are a source of distraction as much as information, I suspect that the “fairness” switch in our heads stays on, and we would still be likely to catch on if someone cuts in front of us in line.

Which asks the question: if we witness someone cutting line, what are we going to do about it?

More of us, it seems, are taking the opportunity to enforce social norms with a bit of “social shaming.” Blogger Chirag Mehta shares the story of Joshua Kaufman, whose MacBook was stolen one day. The laptop already had tracking software installed, just in case it was stolen, so Kaufman was able to track the laptop’s location and use the software to take webcam pictures of the thief. He shared the story, along with the pictures, via his Twitter feed and Facebook page, and the thief was caught.

So the next time I’m standing line, smartphone at the hip, and someone cuts in line, should I quickdraw, Tweeting pics and text about the immoral line-cutter? Adam Dachis would say “not so fast.”

His advice for when this happens:

1) Analyze the line.

Maybe the line-cutter just got confused and thought it was a rugby scrum instead of a polite queue, or maybe the instructions are confusing. Maybe there is no line at all.

2) Resist the urge to get angry.

If you show off your bad manners and scream at them, it makes you look like a loser.

3) Ask someone else if they saw what you saw, and if they agree, that’s the moment to politely confront the cutter and motion them to the back of the line.

Social shaming can be a very big hammer, so try not to use it if you’re confronted with a very small nail. Once you tweet and post a rant, it cannot easily be taken back. Besides, like all good moral beings, your friends may be motivated to punish your bad behavior with a little social shaming of their own.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.


Written by Charles Primm

March 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm

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.

Written by Charles Primm

February 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm

A Good Way to Break Bad News

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Being a better communicator means sometimes having to break bad news, in a sensitive but direct way.

Public relations practitioners sometimes find themselves in no-win situations, explaining or justifying their organization in the face of criticism from external audiences and their own internal stakeholders.

We sometimes find ourselves in no-win situations in our personal lives as well, when we must share something that we really, really wish we didn’t have to. It reminds me of the title of the Harlan Ellison short-story collection “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” when we discover that we are simultaneously torn between having to say something and being unwilling or unable to say it.

Writer Adam Dachis of the Lifehacker blog recently posted some good advice on how to break out of that “can’t say it/must say it” trap. It sounds simple, but is quite powerful: instead of beating around the bush, you must phrase the bad news in as simple a message as possible, and then go ahead and deliver the message.

Putting things off or minimizing the impact of your words will not make a situation better. It’s like only partially removing a splinter from your finger. It may not hurt as much, but the pain is still there.

To that, I would add the thought that you must be prepared for the consequences of the bad news you have just shared. You can choose what to tell someone, but you cannot choose how they react to it. Only they get to decide how they want to react to it. It’s like un-ringing a bell: you can’t do it. Once you have said something, it’s out of your control.

It’s the same way with social media, only faster. If you give a person bad news in a direct, face-to-face conversation, it may not go much farther than that. But if you post bad news to your social media sites, it’s instantly shared with everyone you know, and archived for all time in The Great Internet Cloud.

That loss of control is one reason why I don’t think social media are an appropriate place for sharing bad news. More than one person I know has accidently informed all of their Facebook friends of a breakup by allowing their change of relationship status to be posted to their news feed.

So even if it is not possible to avoid being the bearer of bad tidings, there certainly are better ways to do it.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm