Now I should preface this post by saying I am a huge fan of social media. You name a social network, and I can confidently say there is a good chance I currently have or at one time had a profile on that site. Hell, a couple months ago I even signed up for Private Beta access to Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters network just to see what it was all about (side note: for someone that expends so much energy being “different” and expressing herself creatively, you’d expect a considerably cooler community).
Working for a digital marketing agency it’s easy to get jaded by the peaks and valleys of social media. We all hear the same trite reasons for why our friends and family members don’t want to join social networks, i.e.: “Why should I care about what Susie Q. is eating for lunch today?” or “If people want to talk to me they can pick up the phone.” As social marketers, we laugh to ourselves and say, “Silly Mother, don’t you know all of your old high school friends are right there waiting for you to connect? And how many brands are offering great deals and customer service through their social channels?”
But then there are those weeks where I somewhat agree with Mom’s foreboding and I think of what it would be like if I could just give up social media, because the world around me looks like a slightly ickier place because of what’s happening across social networks. I give you Exhibit A – C below:
A: AshleyMadison.com Offers a Bounty for Tim Tebow’s Virginity – Ashley Madison is an online dating and social networking service that facilitates affairs – as in, it makes it as easy as possible for husbands and wives to discretely cheat on one another. The success of the site, whose slogan BTW is “Life is Short, Have an Affair”, is astonishing. It reportedly has nearly 100M members and received more than 2M unique visitors in March 2012 (Compete.com). Just last week the adultery-adoring site publicly offered a $1M prize to any woman that can seduce or prove she slept with NY Jets QB Tim Tebow. Remind me when it became OK to not only try and intentionally humiliate someone, but to encourage and compensate hoards of gnarly women to declare war on a man’s honor?
B: Palm Desert High Students Encourage a Classmate’s Suicide on Social Networks – Before lunch period yesterday, a student at Palm Desert High School in CA decided to climb up a two-story building and declare that he was going to end his life. What was the response of his concerned classmates? To take photos of the kid, post and tag them on Facebook and tweet delightful little tidbits like “Just jump already… im hungry” and “he can jump off a building on his own time.” The police alerted school administrators to these posts, but other than asking the students to remove them and sending home a letter to parents, no other disciplinary action has been taken. Because it’s OK for the future adults of America to be more concerned about getting their next fix of chicken nuggets in the caf than the life of someone they sit next to in class every day.
C: Ashton Kutcher Makes Online Ads for Popchips (in Brownface) – Popchips hired Ashton Kutcher to create a series of video ads for a new campaign. In these ads, Kutcher plays several different roles for bachelors submitting videos to a “world wide” dating service, including “Raj”, a 39-year-old Bollywood producer. Comments on the YouTube video range anywhere from complete support of the ad by people defending comedy’s right to be “politically incorrect”, to vows from others that they will never eat Popchips again. I don’t think I can explain what is wrong with this campaign as eloquently as tech entrepreneur and writer Anil Dash has, so I’m not going to try. But to Popchips’ statement that the ads were “never intended to stereotype or offend anyone,” I say, “Whaaaaaaaaaa??” If that thought never crossed their mind as they applied the brown pancake makeup to his face and helped him practice the fake Indian accent, then I’m Gisele Bündchen.
Social media can be dangerously powerful because regardless of whether the content being posted is accurate, appropriate or even ethical, many times virality and volume win out. While social levels the playing field and puts control of conversation in the hands of the many, with that comes great responsibility – a responsibility to which many are unwilling to accept or have too little guidance/are too immature to fully understand. What can sites like Ashley Madison and comments from those little jerks at Palm Desert bring to society besides a higher divorce rate/rapid spread of STDs and a slew of happy kids-turned-Steve-Buscemi’s-character-in-Billy-Madison? Not much.
I’m all about entrepreneurship, capitalism and freedom of speech – in fact, I received “needs to control unnecessary talking” on just about all of my report cards – but the thing I think we’ve lost as a society is the realization that just because we have all these social media tools at our disposal to allow us to talk, doesn’t mean we have to share every nasty, private or ridiculous thing that comes to mind.
Maybe that lesson we learned from our Moms back in the day is how we need to start thinking about how we approach social networking?
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”