7/7/20081

Freedom of conversation vs social responsibility.Comments

It is noticeable that bloggers and the social media early adopter crowd (myself included) are very keen to make a good online impression. Why wouldn't they? As has been said before, it is not necessarily the act of blogging or the participation that gets us what we want but is often the secondary benefits resulting from our exposure in those environments.

It seems only natural, therefore, that we should conduct ourselves in an appropriate manner for the majority of the time. There are some exceptions who use potentially inappropriate behaviour as a promotional tool but it is rare that this can be pulled off in an effective manner.

Ryan of Tilling the Soil wrote a great series of posts about communicating with integrity and recently commented on an earlier post saying:

Why is it, though, that it is so easy to intentionally contribute (blogging everyday, liking, etc.), but it seems to be so hard to be intentional in real life?

Perhaps he has a point. It seems that we do tend to interact with people in different ways depending on the forum for that interaction. Is that only natural or a worrying phenomenon?

Appropriate

Louis Gray has sparked a lot of conversation with his post As I Get Older, Some Online "Friending" Gets Creepier which looks at the issue of age on social media services. Should age be a factor when considering who to accept as 'friends' or who to follow?

We live in a difficult age and must be seen to be doing the right thing so do we have to temper our (perfectly innocent) use of social networking sites in order to conform with a sense of social responsibility?

While we may have perfectly good intentions society is increasingly aiming at the lowest common denominator so that even the likes of teachers are fearful of being branded paedophiles should something be taken out of context or a disgruntled student see an opportunity for revenge.

With the increase of people using the internet as a way of grooming children etc. it is natural that this view of society would start to cross the boundaries and self policing this issue may seem an obvious way to avoid future complications. As society itself embraces online life more the divides will lessen and an online community leader will be viewed in the same way as a Scout leader and be equally scared of the implications of their position. We are all being seen as potential criminals.

Perception

we have a different perception of how we act communicate in real life and online - perhaps we have traditionally seen life online as an escape and our interactions not necessarily having to follow the same rules as our offline interactions. It is then rather ironically that we seem to concentrate more on how we deal with people online - is it because our communication is limited so we have to be careful about what we say for fear of misinterpretation?

In real life we have perhaps been more guarded; our face-to-face interactions form part of the daily grind so we are constantly mindful of the pressures we are under so, perhaps, we are less inclined to engage our colleagues (and potential rivals) in the same way that we would an online acquaintance.

Alexander van Elsas agrees that our (expected) behaviour in these different environments differs:

unlike in the real world where we are expected to invest time and effort to keep these relationships valuable, there is no such behavior needed online. We use these friendships for the conversation taking place, but no one really expects you to invest in such a relationship

Are our online 'friendships' really this casual and why should this be? Or is it that we are in the early stages of our expanse in to this territory? I would imagine that future generations will become more adept at reconciling both our online and offline interactions as distance 'friendships' become more prevalent than at present. We are probably still trying to come to terms with the explosion in global communication.

Impact

Although we use our real names and even our own photo as avatars there is still a degree of anonymity when talking to people on the other side of the planet - we can be more open, more expressive and more opinionated without the fear that it will have a direct impact on our normal lives. Say the wrong thing to your manager and you could get fired but say the wrong thing to a 'friend' on a social networking site and you can put it down to a misunderstanding or breakdown in communication. Generally the actual impact is minimal - they may stop 'following' you, big deal!

But online communication seems to be a constant contradiction - especially with those of us who are investing a lot of time in social media and blogging. While some may see it more as a 'throw away' society our focus on online interactions can be to the detriment of our offline lives.

Perhaps we just have to ask ourselves what is appropriate in any given setting and learn to strike a balance between the two.

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Freedom of conversation vs social responsibility.