Mob Mentality & Cyberbullying

United_Social_MediaThis tweet is just one of the many reasons the United Airlines incident is such a disaster for the company. The tweet might or might not be accurate about the release of an app upgrade, but at this point in their PR disaster, it doesn’t really matter. Every aspect of their company is subject to social media shaming because of the passenger being drug off the plane. This apparently has helped to focus the CEO’s understanding that bad news multiplies dramatically on social media, and this shared outrage will effect his monetary bottom line. In this corporate case, I think public shaming serves a purpose, and hopefully helps to change policies in the corporation. Cleverness like this one tweet above, if not snarky and mean, has also been somewhat rewarded in the fact that the CEO has moved away from justifying the incident to giving a full public apology.

The CEO might be personally receiving a big dose of public shaming, but what does that public shaming do when it is heaped on individuals? And why do people take the time and energy to engage in mean, snarky posts. Many times to people they don’t even personally know? Not easy questions to answer, and probably many personality reasons why people do it. The darker side of human nature has always been with us. It appears in the mob mentality that drew crowds to the blood sports of the 2nd century. It appears in the blood-thirsty sense of superiority that brought thousands of people out in early Omaha to watch the brutal lynching of a young, black man, and more recently in crowds shouting to a suicidal person to jump. I think it is that dark side of human nature that comes out in social media attacks.

The wide net of anonymity in social media makes it that much easier to engage in bullying and mob mentality. I would like to think that people who engage in public shaming don’t expect tragic outcomes from what they say. But I wonder if they expect something more than self satisfaction from their posts? Did the cyber mob who attacked the referee, John Higgins, for his officiating at the Kentucky basketball game really want him to loose his business or fear for his life? Did the thousands who posted about Justine Sacco’s racist tweet expect her to loose her PR job at IAC. Maybe John Higgins isn’t the most skilled referee, and maybe Justine Sacco doesn’t really have the temperament to work in public relations, but is it up to a vitriolic, anonymous crowd to decide that? It probably isn’t, but social media is not going away, and neither is the dark side of human nature. Communication is now so interwoven with social media that people will probably never stop using it. So what to do?

As Monica Lewinsky, who was drug through the public muck when her affair with President Clinton was revealed, says, “public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop.” I think the only solution to cyberbullying is similar to the solutions used to deal with hate speech; never limit speech, but use specific hate speech or cyberbullying to sculpt a very detailed response, or at the least, a positive response. Something similar to TrollBusters could be used to counter any type of cyberbullying attack. If more clicks turned into advertising dollars for positive responses, as a balance to the description Lewinsky gives of the mechanism behind the monetization of humiliation and shame, we could possibly see a “cultural revolution” and return to our “long held value of compassion and empathy.” There is always the hope.CB_stop

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Tweeters and Boomers

Tweeters and Boomers?

Because I am taking a class in social media, I need to ponder what exactly social media is, why I do or don’t use it, and how it impacts my life. I don’t think email or Googling news sites necessarily counts as social media, but that, other than a very minimal, somewhat lame use of Facebook is the extent to which I use it. I think I have a generational disconnect from the desire, need, or reason to use many of the tools associated with social media. But, I could learn to appreciate the usefulness of it when it comes to finding my way through our new political reality.

If I had children and grandchildren, I most likely would not be so out of the loop. But I am, along with the majority of my ‘boomer’ friends. Which is another situation that impacts my use of social media. We just don’t connect that way, or so I thought until I read this article from 2014 which presents an interesting review of the generational use of social media.

But I do question many of the conclusions stated in this article. For one reason, the majority of this article presents small, confined boxes describing large swathes of the population and could present questionable conclusions. I did find it interesting that according to this article, Boomers, those of us born from 1946-1964, tweet more times a day than Millennials (born after 1981) and GenX’ers (1965-1980). News to me!

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Photo by Andreas Eldh

That is definitely not my experience, and gives reason to explore more about generational use of social media, and what advantages there could be in using it.

I honestly think my current use of digital ways of gathering news and info about popular culture has had a negative impact on my attention span, and willingness to follow through with a long read on-line. I use to regularly buy the weekly news magazines, Time, Newsweek, USA Today, and usually read cover to cover. Scrolling around on line, I now find myself getting the initial gist of a subject and then scanning on for more. I can’t say that with my method, I am any better informed than I was in the past. And maybe I am less informed because of the ‘bubble’ I chose to inhabit.

I also sense a disconnect in my willingness to settle in with a book. It is easier just to scroll through the plethora of news to get nothing more than that initial gist. And the book stacks next to my easy chair and bed, have steadily declined. This, for me, is a problem. I’m very curious about how the Millennials or GenXers have adapted. That is something I would like to understand more thoroughly through this Social Media class.