Not the Same: Vaguebooking and Making It About You

Ok friends, it’s time we have a talk. This is a talk about Facebook and etiquette on Facebook, because people are really bad at understanding some basic rules of human interaction when they happen on the internet.

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Here’s a basic rule: whoever is posting on their own page or wall or whatever gets to decide what they want to talk about. When people post things, it is not an invitation for you and you personally to share your opinion with them, no matter how ridiculous or uninformed your opinion is. Unless the status seems to invite conversation, your opinions may not be relevant.

This is especially true if your opinion is on the attractiveness or non attractiveness of a woman either pictured or mentioned in the status. Especially if you’re going to be a jerk, sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. no one is required to listen to your opinion. So if you post a crappy response on someone’s post and they delete it and tell you to shut up, it still makes sense for them to be on social media. You whining that they shouldn’t have said anything if they didn’t want debate makes no sense, because people want all kinds of things out of their interactions, and mostly they don’t want assholes.

Ok? Does that seem fair? Not everything another person says requires you to respond, and not everything another person says is a way to get a conversation started. Usually we can figure out these differences by noting if the person is asking a question or presenting an argument. If you’re unsure, you can always ask!

But basic principle: people post things for all kinds of reasons. They are not necessarily asking you to contribute your opinion.

Now every time I say this, I inevitably get this response: “But what about when someone is posting something super emotional and then they don’t say what it’s about? Shouldn’t I ask them? Shouldn’t I tell them that it’s frustrating when they’re super vague but clearly want attention?”

I won’t lie, this response makes me want to hit something. Look at the basic principle. Does it say that there is NEVER a time when people want your feedback? No. Does it say that you can’t ask a question of someone’s status? No.

If someone is vaguebooking, based on your super awesome powers of understanding basic human interactions, you can probably tell that they’re in an emotional place. They might want some comfort or attention. That’s cool. You know what they probably don’t want? Your opinions on whether or not they should vaguebook. Instead, you can ask them what would be helpful right now, offer them some supportive words, ask if they’d like you to call or come over, etc. Ya know, do nice human things for a human who is clearly in distress.

Note that these things are not in any way related to your opinions about the content of the status. Note that it is possible to connect with other people and offer support or condolences or excitement or all kinds of things without bringing your opinions into the matter.

The problem here is that once again individuals are too worried about how this affects them and their ability to speak whenever they want to, instead of how it might be a helpful principle for their friends or for vulnerable people. This idea has been circulating because there have been tons of statuses that are horribly derailed by jerks. It might simply be that there was a picture of a woman and people felt the need to comment on whether she was fuckable or not. It might be that someone posted a status about feeling down and got a lot of people telling them what they should or shouldn’t do to cure their depression. It might even be as simple as someone putting forth a factual argument and having another person say “but what about if I’m attracted to x person or not attracted to y person?” thus totally derailing any real discussion of the facts.

The world won’t end if you decide that it’s better just not to post something. There is a way to respectfully respond to all of the things mentioned above, but it’s never necessary. The point is that when you make it all about your personal opinions, attractions, and what you want to talk about, you’re being an asshole. The point is that “you posted something so you were asking for my opinion,” is never a valid reason to offer up awful, misogynistic, creepy, racist, or otherwise harmful opinions.

Maybe I’m so annoyed because I feel like this is something that we should have all learned ages ago: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” It doesn’t apply to all situations, but it definitely applies to responding to other people’s Facebook posts. If you’re worried about someone else, and trying to consider their feelings when responding, then this isn’t about you. I get that sometimes seeing a post that berates behaviors can feel like it’s definitely for sure berating you. But I promise, if you’re self aware enough to be thinking about other people and worried about them, and trying to consider what their status means and how to help, you’re already light years ahead.

And don’t forget: you can always, always, always ask someone what they’re looking for when they’ve posted. It’s easy, and something we should all practice more.

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Social Media, Shaming, Bullying

Today’s post will probably not be particularly coherent. I’m working out a variety of thoughts related to a wide array of topics that all seem to come together in the phenomena of online shaming and harassment. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts about the appropriateness of shaming, the role social media and the internet play in allowing people to shame each other, and the differences between harassment and activism.

There have been a lot of stories lately about people using shame or attacks on the internet to change other people’s behavior. Gamergate is one of the most obvious examples, although in that case shame was not the tactic, but rather threats and attacks (with at least one instance of someone physically attempting to injure another person). It doesn’t seem like it takes much thinking to realize that threats (especially death and rape threats) are not acceptable ways to change someone’s behavior, and neither is driving to their house with the intention of killing them. So we have a far end of the spectrum that is unequivocally Not Ok (I’m sure there is a freeze peacher out there somewhere who is apoplectic that I’m taking away their right to say whatever they want. When I say Not Ok I mean that this is a horrible, unethical way to try to change things you disagree with, whether that be women in games or super racist people).

But other examples are not quite as obviously horrible ways to participate in a decent society.

Recently, Gawker did some trolling of Coca Cola in a way that tarnished their brand. Coca Cola was in the midst of a campaign turning negative tweets into happy little pictures, and Gawker managed to make them tweet quotes from Mein Kampf. Was this useful? Was it cruel? It seems like Gawker might have been pointing out the ways that it’s really unhelpful to tritely paper over the actual harms that happen on the internet, especially when Coca Cola actively takes part in some extremely negative, harmful, and oppressive things. But did that message come across, and is it ok to shame or trick them?

At Skepchick, Kerry suggests that trolling a huge company is different from taking the same actions towards an individual. A recent New York Times article documents the ways that backlash to tweets can completely change an individual’s life, leading to them losing their job, developing mental illnesses, and even being afraid to date on the off chance that their date Googles them. The repercussions for Coke were that the company had to pull their campaign. So it does seem that there’s an important difference between using social media to ask someone (or someones) with power to change their behaviors and piling on the shame to an individual to get them to change their behavior.

BUT…one of the most effective ways to push social change is by upping the social costs of behaving poorly. So when more and more people start speaking up and saying that they don’t like shitty rape jokes, or that they won’t tolerate hearing racism and sexism, the more people learn not to engage in behaviors that actually hurt other people. When someone does something that is really a nasty, inappropriate thing (even if it’s simply saying a nasty, inappropriate shame) it does make sense for them to feel some shame, and for others to show their disapproval. Sometimes this does cross over into shaming for shaming’s sake, like name calling or mocking. That seems to be less helpful, although it’s something that happens with or without the internet: it happened in the past in public punishments like the stocks or public executions and whippings. It happens in individual friend groups all the time. It can even happen at larger events like performances or athletics.

So it makes complete sense that some of these shaming behaviors that are actually pretty effective ways of groups policing what behavior they find acceptable or not would move over to the internet. I’m curious if the people who think that this constitutes a destruction of free speech would think the same thing about the instances in which people are shamed or berated for saying shitty things in meatspace.

Of course there are some pertinent differences. The internet lets shaming happen on a scale far larger than most in person shaming ever would. It sticks around for a lot longer, and can get broadcast to a lot of people, even if just for their entertainment. Those differences can lead the shaming to follow someone for longer than it might have otherwise, but the emotional effects of being shamed don’t seem like they would be much different whether they were in person or online.

It seems like there’s a lot of nuance in which behaviors of calling someone out or asking someone to change are actually effective and aren’t horribly damaging to other people. There have to be some repercussions in order for a person to make any changes, but too many repercussions and you venture into “being a total shithead” territory (like death threats). For people who are extremely thoughtful about how they engage with other people this might not be a problem. There are actually people out there who are fairly careful on the internet about how they try to engage in activism, particularly when interacting with an individual.

But the problem is that the internet gives us all equal access. So especially if someone who is thoughtful and nuanced starts a critique of another person online, it quickly becomes a shitfest of insults and shaming, whether or not we intended it to be that way. This can still be surprisingly effective at getting people to understand that they’ve said something horrible, or at educating a larger group of people about a certain social justice issue, but it does seem to come at a cost. That cost involves hurting some people, the people who said something racist or stupid or awkwardly and then got attacked.

When does it cross into bullying?

I really don’t know. I don’t know how much responsibility we can take for the ways that companies respond when an employee has said something stupid. Calling for someone to be fired doesn’t seem relevant (unless that person is heading up some kind of policy or their actions would affect their own or their coworkers abilities to do their jobs). But sometimes when an employee is the source of bad PR, it’s in the company’s best interest to let them go. Are the internet masses responsible? Was it bullying or shaming to say that a person’s actions were gross or racist or bad? How does it change if that person has 170 followers vs. if they’re a CEO or entertainer?

Our gut instinct says that those in the public sphere should be willing to put up with some flak, but is it really fair to say that they deserve the kind of overwhelming shaming, criticism, and mob mentality that can come when a celebrity screws up on Twitter? How responsible do they have to be for the fact that their words and actions influence more people than the average joe?

Even if you’re one of the Good Ones, how responsible is it to join in the criticism if you know others are going to jump in and take it to a ridiculous extreme?

Guys I just don’t know anymore. I don’t know how much hurt is the acceptable amount of hurt to ask the privileged to put up with. I don’t know when criticism moves to bullying moves to harassment or how to decide what amount of privilege shields you from the worse end of that spectrum. I know that it’s really important that there are repercussions when someone says something racist or sexist or shitty or oppressive because saying those things actively harms the more vulnerable people. I just don’t know how.

I Love Selfies

One of my most favorite people in the world, Elyse MoFo Anders, recently started a project called Operation Flawless. Go check it out and participate if you feel the urge. I’m having tons of fun with it already. The basic gist of the project is to intentionally post selfies of yourself looking less than flawless to highlight the impossibility of beauty standards and to recognize how important and powerful self-portraits (selfies) can be. As I’ve participated in this project, I’ve come to a realization: I love selfies.

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This might come as a surprise to many of you. I’ve spoken many times before about my insecurities and my unhappiness with my looks. But no matter how much I dislike looking at myself in the mirror, I love seeing pictures of myself. I feel so much more comfortable when there’s a distance between myself and the image of myself, so that I can be somewhat more objective when assessing myself. I would rather look at a picture of myself than see myself in the mirror any day. I can manipulate my pictures, delete my pictures, only keep the pictures I like, only look at the pictures from when I looked happier…I can control pictures.

But more than just the medium, I absolutely adore being able to take pictures of myself. Selfies are sort of like the ultimate form of power over how others see you and over how you see yourself. It’s kind of lovely. When I take selfies I get to decide how I’m lit, what I’m wearing, whether I wear makeup, how my hair is, the background, and pretty much everything else. And on top of that I get to continue taking pictures until I find the one that I think is exactly perfect and how I want to look. I can play model, try to smize, find the exact quirk of my mouth that makes me look snarky/sexy/happy.

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Perhaps my favorite part of selfies is that I get to pick what’s important in my life and capture that moment for y’all to see. When someone else is taking the pictures, they’re in the driver’s seat. You’re doing something you think is embarrassing or boring? Oh look there’s a picture! You’re drifting somewhere else and not really present? Yup, picture of that too! You’re stuck somewhere you don’t want to be? Mmhmm, everyone knows. When you’re taking the pictures, you get to pick. Not all of you will understand. Sometimes I take pictures of myself sitting at Caribou, sometimes hanging out at home doing nothing. More often than I should admit there are cats in my pictures. I take selfies when something I want to share is happening. It’s my visual diary. It reveals the things I do often, or the things that are exciting and important.

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Unfortunately I often find (especially lately) that I’ve stopped posting selfies unless there’s a “reason”. I’ve internalized well enough the messaging that just posting pictures of yourself is trite, self-absorbed, juvenile, or wrong in some way. On some level it seems to say “I don’t have anything better to post”. Well bullshit on that. Me, myself, and I are worth posting. The times that I care about are worth posting. I don’t need to live up to anyone’s standards of worthiness on my own Facebook page or Twitter. It’s not narcissism to share my own image of myself: that’s the entire point of social media.

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I’m taking Elyse’s invitation to personally reclaim the selfie. I love seeing my face plastered all over the internet and if no one else will do it for me, then gosh darn I’ll do it myself!

Social Media and Honesty

This is the second of two follow up posts to a liveblog of a panel about social media for nonprofits. Here I’d like to focus on the fact that the internet often brings out the honesty in us: we say things we wouldn’t say otherwise, and very often these are nasty, negative things. Many people think this is the worst thing ever to happen and it means none of us should ever go on the internet and we should totally just accept that that’s how the internet is because duh it’s the internet (hyperbole, hyperbole). However there are some things about this bald honesty that are really positives, and which we should take advantage of.

The first element of this is that it exposes people who are really quite horrible. People feel more free to say sexist, racist, and cruel things online than they do otherwise. It reveals a lot of the things that they are likely thinking underneath but have learned to hide. That means that those of us who understand why these things are inappropriate can call them out and explain what’s wrong with their actions, as opposed to face to face interactions in which they hide their true feelings and we can do nothing about it.

It’s hard to face an enemy who won’t show its true face. If people are constantly hiding their racism but still acting on it in subtle ways, it continues to have impacts but is much harder to call out and change. Giving people a forum to voice their true opinions allows those opinions to be honestly engaged with and hopefully changed for the better.

But the other element of this is that it allows all sorts of unpopular opinions to get into dialogue together: sometimes these are even POSITIVE opinions. We get to hear from people who normally are not allowed to speak: people who practice BDSM, trans* people, people with mental illness, immigrants…all of these honest experiences are put out there to intersect with the opinions we hear every day. And perhaps hearing these true experiences will help those with negative stereotypes to move beyond the simplistic impressions they have of others and find a real understanding of difference.

Sometimes these bald-faced opinions are things we need to hear. Sometimes they’re things we hear all too often but never so clearly stated. But honesty, in my opinion, is rarely a bad thing. It can be difficult to hear and should generally come with compassion, but if we want to improve as a society, we need to clearly know where we are and how people see the world.

Of course being baldly honest when you’re acting as the representative of a company is not the best policy, but individuals being truthful about their opinions will probably help us to understand what the problems in our society are and how to fix them.

Social Media and Social Justice

A few days ago I liveblogged from the North Star Nonprofit conference about social media and nonprofits. The tips presented in that panel were great for businesses or nonprofits that are looking to use social media for branding, however in the next two posts, I’m going to touch on how social media can be an impressively useful force for individuals to use and how the rules for using social media as an individual are diametrically opposed to how one should use it as someone building a brand.

 

There are a number of elements to this, but the underlying theme is that social media gives everyone a voice equal to anyone else’s. There are few other places where this is true. Because of this, groups that are oppressed or are minorities can use social media in amazing and unique ways.

 

As an example, let’s look at Adria Richards, someone Kruger pointed to as an example of how we don’t need to say everything we think on social media. Adria Richards is a woman in the tech industry. As any woman who has had any experience with sexual harassment can tell you, more often than not speaking up about it to the “appropriate” authorities does almost nothing. There are myriad stories of women reporting their rape to the cops and being ridiculed, of women trying to report sexual harassment and nothing happening, of being blamed for their own harassment or for how uncomfortable they feel. While I don’t know Richards’ personal story, at a guess I would say that she has experienced this before and knows that the traditional avenues of trying to address sexual harassment or inappropriate comments in the workplace don’t work.

 

Enter social media. Where typically Richards would likely have to simply sit through whatever is happening that makes her uncomfortable, or risk being ridiculed or blamed by management, now she can simply tweet about it and make the world aware of the clearly inappropriate behaviors of these men. She took matters into her own hands because she knew that the systems in place were not effective and would not help. As an individual, this is an incredibly brave thing to do, and an incredibly resourceful move. It was effective, and it illustrated the ongoing problems of sexism and harassment in the tech world.

 

As an individual, Richards used the available technology to protect herself and the other women in the tech industry. To an outsider it may seem like she’s making a big deal of nothing, but constant sexual comments, discrimination, and sexual harassment make things like this a big deal.

 

This is one example that is illustrative of how minorities and oppressed groups can use social media to gain a voice. There have been a number of campaigns by women, LGBT groups, and people of color flooding the social media of companies who have done something inappropriate and discriminatory. These are the types of campaigns that would never be seen otherwise, but because of the incredibly public nature of social media, everyone becomes aware of them and the company is forced to act. Similarly, when discrimination happens, social media gives the oppressed party a voice. Where typically they would be forced to go to authorities who may or may not be sympathetic, social media allows them to speak up for themselves, connect to others with similar experiences, shed a light on what has happened to them, and make it clear that they will not stand for it anymore.

 

An important element of this is the anonymity of the internet. While there is often vicious pushback to people speaking out, there is some measure of safety in that the people who are responding likely do not know where you live and cannot harm you. In addition, being able to hide your demographic information behind an avatar can be an important step towards gaining respect online. A prime example of this was the website “I fucking love science”, created by a female grad student simply because she really loved science. She acted as a curator for interesting science articles across the internet and gained a huge internet following. After becoming fairly famous online, she inadvertently mentioned her gender. The response was vicious: many people insulted, threatened, unfollowed her. This is a prime illustration of the fact that in order to gain respect, oppressed groups often have to pass as the dominant group. The internet allows us to do this, but also to then reveal ourselves and break down people’s conceptions of what we should have been.

 

Because of the intensely democratic nature of the internet, people who otherwise would be silenced get to speak. Incidents that would be ignored in most cases get publicity, particularly when they happen to people who are well-known and respected in their fields. On a professional level, this can be difficult as it might lead to getting fired like Richards did, but on a personal level and on an ethical level it is often the way we move forward and change things. The voices that get heard online are so important to leveling the playing field for women, GLBT people, racial minorities, and anyone else who is rarely heard. Recognizing that rocking the boat can be a positive thing is so important for seeing the potential of social media.

Live Blogging North Star NonProfits: Tweet Her? I Barely Know Her!

This post is a liveblog of a presentation by Cameron Bloom Kruger.

Social media exists alongside all other kinds of communication with our audiences, but we have to think about where our communications might overlap with the communications our audiences would like to use. We should aim for that sweet spot. Oftentimes, social media is that sweet spot, but we need to be strategic about which social media we’re using.

Social media is like real life only online. Social media is a conversation, and we need to strategically decide which conversations we want to be a part of and which conversations we have the time to effectively be a part of. Here are some analogies of the different types of conversations you might have on social media:

Facebook is a coffeeshop: you’re sitting and having a conversation, might tune out that you’re in public. Be personal and unique. Oftentimes it gives you a false sense of privacy. Intimate in public.

Twitter is a crowded bar: too many people all talking at once. You can yell if you want, but you don’t always want to do that.

LinkedIn is a networking event: you have your business card and you want to make connections. BUSINESS. This isn’t the place for being unique, it’s the place to get a job.

Google+ is a conference lunch. A circle of people mostly isolated from other conversations. If you want to break out and move to a different table you can, but most people won’t.

The Internet is Leaking: can these communications affect and break into real life? Absolutely social media affects our “real world” (a term I’m not wholly comfortable with because the interactions we have online are absolutely real). The feelings we have about a brand that appear online carry over into our in person interactions with that brand.

More often than not, the emotions associated with social media are negative (according to studies about people’s impressions of social media interactions). We see a lot of arguments, blocking, and discomfort from online conversations. The feeling seems to be that because there is a wall of technology, individuals can be more real, more raw and say things they wouldn’t say normally. Kruger seemed to indicate that this is a bad thing, and for branding it often is, however in a follow up post I’d like to address why this bald honesty can be a tool for good online.

Cautionary Tales: we could be driving conversations in positive ways. Here are some things not to do.

If content is fire, social media is gasoline.

One example is Adria Richards. We don’t always need to say exactly what we’re thinking on social media, and we need to be careful to think about the consequences once that gasoline fire gets started. Again, Kruger indicated that Richards’ behavior in this case was inappropriate because she could have handled the situation less publicly. I find this example unfortunate because there has been a lot of ink spilled over the gender politics of this particular incident, something I’ll touch on in a later post. Suffice it to say that social media often gives a voice to those who are rarely heard otherwise, and this may have been an example of that.

Don’t feed the trolls! Trolls: People who hide behind anonymity and try to get an emotional reaction. Essentially Kruger suggests that we shouldn’t feed the trolls. Don’t engage with those people who are ragging on you because it will inflame things. If you can capitalize on that negative attention, do it, otherwise don’t escalate the situation.

Jumping on the bandwagon: don’t do it. You don’t need to post about everything in the world that happens just because other people are posting about it, and you absolutely don’t need to try to capitalize on serious issues. If something relates to you, then post about it.

Sounding like a robot: Don’t respond to people with form letters. Be real. Actually listen to what they’re saying.

These things don’t move us forward. Start small, target a particular audience and engage with them narrowly.

3 Tips:

1.You are the brand. People want to talk to YOU not a logo.

2.Contribute more than you receive-put out good content and you’ll reap the benefits. Not just about you.

3.Learn to listen. Be a good conversationalist. Find out what people have said about you.

All of these tips are incredibly helpful, but I will say that there are some important differences between social media as an individual vs. social media as an organization, and that many of these tips have been fiercely debated when it comes to being an individual on the internet, particularly a woman or other minority person on the internet. Don’t feed the trolls is only the most infamous of these. When using social media as an individual who is representing an organization, it’s a hard balance to find, but it’s one that we should be thinking about with more nuance than “should” and “should not”.