Social Justice: Have the Social Networks Failed Us, Or Have We Failed Them?

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about The Children’s Place PR bump in the road when the company was lambasted for its Best Subject T-shirts,  reinforcing the stereotype that girls were not interested in math.

In that post I highlighted the backlash by TCP’s supporters against the company buckling to their vocal social media detractors, and wondered if the masses had reached  a tipping point of exasperation with the primarily anonymous mob of social media vigilantes out there policing brands for their ‘bad behavior.’

If you read this series, you know the drill:

  1. – Brand makes a mistake
  2. – Social critics light up the brand’s Facebook & Twitter pages
  3. a) Brand blows the handling of crisis and it gains steam, or
  4. b) Brand apologizes, possibly changing policy
  5. – Mob finds a new victim

Frankly, it becomes exhausting, especially when the ‘uproar’ is often about something a brand had no control over; a rogue employee or a simple mistake.  The level of anger directed at some of these ‘social media fiasco’s’ can be mind boggling when compared to issues going on in the real world.

The Issues That Should Matter on Social Media

On Wednesday, we published Hessie Jones’ outstanding post on social media Cyberbullying, and the networks seemingly complete abdication of any responsibility to the targets of the bullies.

The post was widely shared and the comment section is full of intelligent and necessary discussion about the very serious issues covered.  Many of us have witnessed, or know first hand, a victim of cyber bullying; it has become so widespread that it has touched most of us involved in social networks.

Cut to Friday morning when one of the most talked about topics on Facebook was the ‘tragedy’ swirling around Ben Affleck being chosen as the next Batman.

That’s right – the streams of conversation were focused on the choice of the next Batman when anywhere from 130 to thousands of people are dying from chemical weapons unleashed by Syria on its own citizens.

The juxtaposition of the two topics, and the lack of attention focused on the latter by the vast majority of social users, exposes what appears to be the great failure of the social networks – platforms that rose in prominence because they gave everyday Joes & Janes a megaphone that had never existed and access to information from around the globe, are being used for pathetically meaningless discussions about Hollywood and the fluff that has come to dominate our field of vision.

When Brands Join in on the Inanity

There have been endless posts written about brands that cleverly capitalize on of-the-moment events; Oreo is STILL garnering praise for it’s handling of the Super Bowl blackout.

There is, however, a stark difference between being clever and being asinine.

This week the car company Lexus joined in the Affleck bashing , with the company tweeting

You can question the superhero. You can’t question the supercar. #Batfleck#BetterBatmanThanBenAffleck

It appears that the ill advised  tweet has been taken down, but one wonders: was spontaneity so important that the company would alienate Ben Affleck, his fans and the producers of the film?

What did the Community Manager at Lexus think the brand would gain by piling on  Affleck along with the social mob?

Or perhaps, the questions I have should be self directed: why would I expect anything different based on what the Social Networks have become?

Affleck Batman

One Steady Stream of Entertainment, Gossip, and Anger

Social Media provides a tremendous amount of information, possibility and opportunity.

Having spent my early years on a small farm in a very rural part of Northeastern Pennsylvania, I know what true and utter isolation is.  As a child I thirsted for knowledge and experiences that were far beyond my reach; in the 70’s and 80’s when I was growing up, the television and the library were the only opportunities to discover life outside of my small,  cocooned world.

As soon as I graduated from high school I got on a plane and spent years exploring places I had dreamed of as a child.  First the web, and then Social Media, extended this ability to explore and learn and meet people from the other ends of the earth; like millions of others, I became a heavy social media user fairly quickly.

Professionally, as I assisted businesses market and grow their business, the power of social media to ‘get the word out’ and communicate directly with customers was trans-formative, and of course, still is.

But there is a phenomena that is souring many social users on its withering potential.  On Friday night and over the past few days, I have seen many of the marketing pros I admire lamenting the focus of so many social media’s users on irrelevant, petty topics.

In addition to the cyber-bullying concerns Hessie Jones so poignantly outlined, Facebook and Twitter can appear much more Maury Povich than educational and uplifting communities.

The steady stream of celebrity news trending on Twitter and dominating Instagram are clear examples of what social media users are focused on in droves.

Social Media as a News and Communication Vehicle

Of course, the ‘real news’ is there if you look for it; one of the ‘gifts’ of social media is that  information is readily available from a myriad of sources, including foreign voices with varying viewpoints.

For anyone with an interest in what is happening to the citizens of Syria or Iraq, or any other place in the world, there are many excellent blogs and online news publications available with a simple search.

In the UK, The Guardian has done a superb job of reporting on important issues of the day, from breaking the Snowden/NSA stories, to diligently covering crimes against humanity occurring in Syria.

And there are countless businesses of all sizes that do not engage in the immature and trifling banter Lexus chose to participate in.

There are many companies that understand social media’s real benefits, and realize they are not derived from one viral moment of clever or shocking statements, but in the ability to communicate with and better understand the needs of customers and prospects.

Too often, those companies fly under our radar as we choose to focus instead on the latest ‘makeover’ or legal troubles of some star or athlete, or the mindless pic posted by an immature employee.

Social Media is What We Make of It

I realize that this post may come across as preachy and self righteous; the truth is that  none of us are forced to join in on the current, meaningless trending topics in Social Media.

None of us have to read or engage in meaningless or pathetic discussions that lower our level of self respect.

There are pockets of intelligence and meaningful discussion of the important issues of our day, and thought provoking forums for professional development.  There are  ‘communities’ that rise above the garbage streaming through social media if we choose to seek them out.

So forgive me my soap box; this Sunday morning I just couldn’t get riled up about Ben Affleck, or Batman, or the latest fast food employee pulling a prank and inflaming the social mob.

Today I wanted to think about how we can take the power of social media and make the world a little bit less inane.

0 thoughts on “Social Justice: Have the Social Networks Failed Us, Or Have We Failed Them?

  1. SmallBusinEssentials says:

    And thank you for doing so!

  2. Danny Brown says:

    The other day, I posted on my Facebook wall that I’d rediscovered my love for magazines and quality journalism. Much of this has been driven by the type of inanity and ignorance you highlight here. Sure, I can get my news from the web, and quicker than print publications. But the vitriol and stupidity that ensues in the comments of these pieces make me sad for the people we’ve become.
    T_Burrows sums it up perfectly in his words on Google+ this morning:

    A social network succeeds or fails not by its own, but by the people who breath life into it or suck the air from it.  

  3. AmyVernon says:

    Having worked in newsrooms for 20 years, the fact that the masses chose to focus on Affleck comes as no surprise. We’d have focus groups tell us they wanted more news about government corruption and waste, but the reaction to those stories versus some salacious crime was stark: Guess which paper sold out on the newsstand.
    This isn’t new, it’s just magnified because of the volume possible on social media. The fact that Syria is being all but ignored isn’t because of people on social. Solid news organizations often had the worst sales or ratings because they didn’t pander. 
    Sadly, I think a lot of this is human nature. I don’t think we’ve “become” this – we always were this, but it was hidden more because not everyone had a megaphone. All that’s changed is access to the internet giving more people that megaphone, sadly.

  4. Tinu says:

    I agree with you when you say we’re getting out what we put in. I too get annoyed by the seemingly endless and pointless discussions of inane and often inconsequential tirades. And then sometimes, I think I need to loosen up & have more fun, lol.
    But most of the time when I find myself having those thoughts I think I’m the one responsible for pruning my incoming feed so that when noise comes in, it gets lost in my mostly-signal input. This time, I think it worked – I didn’t fid out about the Affleck uproar until after it peaked. And, incidentally, it took me back to the similar reactions people had to Michael Keaton as Batman. Now, his is the performance to beat. But I digress.
    Because of this painstakingly irritating tuning I find myself doing, I spent most of that same period discussing the March on Washington celebration this weekend with friends and strangers alike, then solidifying plans to attend the anniversary event next Wednesday.
    Great points you made here – but I wonder about the resolution. How many people would rather tweak settings constantly, hiding or un following friends? I know a few dozen people who went the simpler route of just unplugging from certain networks entirely. What do you think is the next step for a typical user?

  5. bowden2bowden says:

    The Internet introduced us and the social web added kryptonite
    to the ill-informed argument. These days, everyone is a pundit! But, with all those
    different perspectives on important issues flying around, you’d think we’d be
    getting smarter and more informed. Unfortunately, the very wiring of our brains
    ensures that all these lively debates only make us dumber and more
    The “argumentative theory of reasoning,” says that humans didn’t learn
    to ask questions and offer answers in order to find universal truths. We do it
    as a way to gain authority over others. That’s right; reason itself evolved to
    help us bully people into getting what we want.

  6. AmyMccTobin says:

    Danny Brown T_Burrows And I’ve been reading more, and thinking about what I want to occupy my waking hours, so from that perspective perhaps it has helped.  
    In a discussion with @MarjorieClayman over on FB I reminded myself of this small act for good: Right here in my county we stopped a developer from destroying 60 acres of Mangroves that would have destroyed the breeding grounds of fish and shore birds; we did it using a campaign and a Facebook Page to pull people together. The commission meeting had over 1000 attendees – a record for ANY meeting ever in the county, and we stopped the Marina. I have friends who use social media powerfully for passion causes – to help rescue animals, assist battered women, help the homeless, fight cancer… there are so many causes that use it for good. Next week I’ll focus on those.I think my post was a Call to Action for myself as much as anyone, to focus on what’s important, and do as you say Tinu , control my feed more stringently and don’t let the crap in.

  7. bowden2bowden says:

    AmyMccTobin Danny Brown T_Burrows Tinu I have been self filtering the noise for sometime and have been amazed at the improvements, news feed and attitude…

  8. Danny Brown says:

    Tinu For me, blocking and unfriending. I’m all for frivolity as well as inanity, but when your “in defence” points illuminate your ethics, I know we have little in common.

  9. ShellyKramer says:

    While I like your post, Amy, I truly don’t see the problem. By that, I mean that I go to dinner with friends and discuss a variety of inane topics that we all get a laugh out of, then someone brings up sex trafficking or bullying or something else and while we talk about it for awhile, it’s generally considered “buzzkill” so the conversation goes back to “safe” topics. Whether in person or online, I think that’s often true. That doesn’t mean social media is to blame, it’s that in addition to in person conversations, we now have the ability to talk on the phone, on video and via the written word through social networks. Just like in “real” life, there are crazies, intelligent beings, political nuts, religious nuts, spammy salespeople, narcissists … well, the list goes on. 
    Our world is changing constantly as do our means of communicating. People, however, they don’t change. And we talk about as many asinine things as we do important things, depending on what we happen to care about at that particular moment. 
    I think there are a ton of examples of how social media (and other communication channels) regularly work to make the world less insane, but it’s easy to overlook those when we’re focused on the negative. Sure, there are cat photos and Affleck lunacy and other ridicularity, but there is so much good. Think of Jennifer Stauss’s campaign to honor her dying mother with her SMAC Monkeys Against Cancer and how people all over the world rallied to support her and make her dream come true. Think of what Stacy Monk is doing with Mama Lucy and her kids and how people everywhere support them. And Andrea Weckerle and her mission for Online Civility. And Geoff Livingston and his missions and the campaigns to honor Jacob Weiskopf’s honor. So much good – and all because of relationships that would have likely not otherwise happened but for social media channels and networking.
    I think it’s safe to say there will always be silliness when it comes to conversations, no matter the medium. And idiocy and hatred and all kinds of other bad things. But there will also always be people who are passionate about what it is they are talking about and who persist in making the conversations, wherever they happen, also be focused on important things. And really? A mixture of seriousness, activism, intelligent discourse and levity is part of what makes conversation interesting. I feel like I see that, on a regular basis, everywhere I look. I also see things I don’t love, but those don’t seem to be worth my time or my energy to even consider.
    Better to look for the good. When you go down that path, it seems as though you’re more likely to find it. At least that’s the way I roll.

  10. ShellyKramer says:

    bowden2bowden AmyMccTobin Danny Brown T_Burrows Tinu That’s what I do, too. And it works really well!

  11. Danny Brown says:

    ShellyKramer Which, in fairness, AmyMccTobin states with her closing words.
    I realize that this post may come across as preachy and self righteous; the truth is that  none of us are forced to join in on the current, meaningless trending topics in Social Media.
    None of us have to read or engage in meaningless or pathetic discussions that lower our level of self respect.
    There are pockets of intelligence and meaningful discussion of the important issues of our day, and thought provoking forums for professional development.  There are  ’communities’ that rise above the garbage streaming through social media if we choose to seek them out.
    That doesn’t mean there’s any less ignorance out there, and if we never highlight the ignorance, no one learns. It needs balance at both “sides”.

  12. AmyMccTobin says:

    ShellyKramer I hear you Shelly – and Danny’s right, my closing point is that we CHOOSE what we participate in;  however, when I see the ridiculous fluff getting FAR more attention than issues that matter, when I have to stay off of FB for a while because I can’t take one more ignorant, angry argument about politics…  well then, I have to speak up.  The reality is that Social Networks are really a reflection of our society and what we value, and it certainly appears that often we value Hollywood more than we do humanity.

  13. AmyMccTobin says:

    ShellyKramer bowden2bowden AmyMccTobin Danny Brown T_Burrows Tinu I think this post was in many ways written to myself; it’s time I start doing the same.

  14. ShellyKramer What Danny Brown said and this…
    To me, I think this post emphasized what happens when the “silliness” goes too far, when you go into “OMG, Ben Affleck is the new Batman, let’s trash him” modes… and forget there are more important things to be working on, to be discussing, etc…
    … that this Internet thing can be used to do so much more than gossip.
    To answer the title, I think both we’ve failed the networks, possibly because we’re all still trying to figure this connection toolbox out… AND the networks have failed us… they sort of encourage the “gossipy” nature of the Web.

  15. ShellyKramer says:

    Danny Brown ShellyKramer AmyMccTobin I realize that Danny, I read the post. You didn’t need to come to her defense – I was just engaging in conversation via my comment. Everyone approaches life differently. When I read an article in an online newspaper I’m often astonished at the vitriol and ignorance (and anonymity) I see in the comments. If I gave them my time, energy and attention, I would be diverting it from something that does matter, so I choose not to. That was my greater point. And again, Amy and I are great friends – we have many conversations like this – and I don’t think either of our views need defending. I don’t leave comments when I’ve not read a post in its entirety!

  16. ShellyKramer says:

    AmyMccTobin ShellyKramer And that is nothing new. That’s why those magazines that are for sale in the supermarkets – right near the checkout – are so popular. They highlight the inane and the ridiculous – and people buy it. That’s why shows like Honey Boo Boo and The Real Housewives’ series and Swamp Boys and crap like that are so popular. We value them enough that we give them our attention. The same is true of the things that we see on social networks. We can rail against it or we can filter it. But really? If we think we’re going to change people’s proclivity in being interested in cats and Hollywood films and the like over what we personally define to be “what matters,” well, then I think we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. Let’s instead focus on the stuff that matters and effect change there instead of trying to effect change in people who aren’t interested in changing. Social nets, “real life” or otherwise.

  17. Danny Brown says:

    ShellyKramer I actually thought I was replying to a comment as opposed to coming to someone’s defence. Hey ho. 🙂 AmyMccTobin

  18. ShellyKramer says:

    bowden2bowden Exactly! And if people don’t share our opinions, there’s a chance they are wrong. Because we need to be right. I totally disagree with that thinking and can usually see many sides to every argument (a character trait that my family finds most annoying). And when something bugs me – online or off – I check out and focus on something that really matters. Life is too short.

  19. AmyMccTobin says:

    ShellyKramer AmyMccTobin Yes, again I hear you, and I do that to – I am not a ‘sit on yer duff’ kind of person. However, I will, from time to time, feel the need to rail against the nonsense.  I don’t buy those tabloids, I have never watched Honey Boo Boo, and if I’m a whiny intellectual elitist for writing this post, so be it. Won’t be the first time I’ve been called a name like that 🙂  But there are times, Shelly, when I just have to blog “Enough already!”  This was one of those times, and, I appreciate the conversation happening in these comments and on FB – makes me feel less alone in a sea of inanity.

  20. AmyMccTobin says:

    ShellyKramer bowden2bowden You see, that is something I LOVE about FB – that I have discovered that I have varying views from MANY of my long time friends.  I enjoy the debates (most of the time), and I think it enriches my life to have friends who don’t think like me.

  21. hessiej says:

    Great comments on this post AmyMccTobin. And you’ve brought out a topic that is definitely something that needed to be said. People will continue to be who they are. What ShellyKramer says is true and that all this gossip and inane discussion continues to perpetuate regardless of channel. That’s why gossip mags are a multimillion dollar industry. Social just ignites it even further. You’ve said it yourself: It absolutely is a choice to participate. bowden2bowden made some pretty insightful comments about the wiring of human brain. If this is what defines us, it’s pretty sad.

  22. Danny Brown says:

    And now we have all the hate and vitriol being levelled at a 20-year old kid for her performance at the MTV Video Awards…

  23. […] That post touched a nerve with quite a few people who were just as up in arms about the fact that the ‘crisis’ of Ben Affleck as Batman appeared to get more play than the story of over 1000 people dying from gas attacks in Syria. […]

  24. […] Article: Social Justice: Have the Social Networks Failed Us, Or Have We Failed Them? […]

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