Freedom of conversation vs social responsibility.

# 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?


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.


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.


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.

Related Posts
  1. vanelsas says: #
    There are different psychological processes taking place here. 1 is that we can have 1000 (or a million) online contacts that we call " friends". But in reality they are people you interact with on interrupt basis. If you don't interact, no one would care. You don't know any of their faces, voices etc. And they don' t really know you either. And that is convenient because neither side expects that we invest in that particular relationship. 2. Take a Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed or whatever friend of yours. If you haven't really met an "on-line" friend in real-life then the pressure of seeing each other every once in a while isn't there. This becomes different f I know you in real life, we might live not to far away from each other. We would (if we are friends) feel the need every once in a while to connect, t talk, phone, see each other, whatever. There is no such need on the web
  2. Colin Walker says: #
    There may be no real expectation in general but what about the expectations we put upon ourselves and the standards of behaviour we set? By being involved in online conversations such as blogging and social media we are putting pressure upon ourselves to stay involved and maybe this is something we need to get out of.

    Once we have invested our time in these activities it's almost like reading a good book: you want to know what happens on the next page, in the next chapter, at the end of the story. It is often not human nature to just walk away from something we don't consider is finished and perhaps our online relationships fall in to this category. While we can and should put the book down we feel compelled not to.
  3. Thank you for this great post. In the early days of the net, some sociologists feared that anonymous interactions would lead to the decline of civilization. Instead we are seeing accountability as a byproduct of community interaction. Through engagement, we are able to expand our knowledge circles, bring back dynamic social information and impact our "real" worlds- not a bad thing at all.
  4. ryanbrymer says: #
    Thanks, as always, for the quotes and links. I'm glad that it has continued to spark conversation.
    Not to turn the boat too much, but what is currently distressing me is the number of real-life acquaintances that I've been able to re-connect with for a brief moment (i.e. Friending) and exchanging updates for a week only to forget about a month later.
    The "always a click away-ness" of communication has (I believe) helped to develop our non-face-to-face relationships while eroding some of the real-life relationships. Like Alexander says above, in Facebook world, we can get away with not "poking" someone for a month, but in the real world it would seem like we were rudely ignoring our real friends.
    I guess that I haven't really said much other than to commiserate on a topic that I find myself entrenched in as well. I do have an experiment in the works, though, so I'll be reporting on how that turns out.
  5. Colin Walker says: #

    Perhaps you need to look at why you lost contact with those "friends" in the first place and then ask whether you really expected following them on a social networking to be a cure all. I think you'll come to quite a predictable answer.

    There is no doubt that social networking can enhance current real life relationships and spark new virtual ones but I am not convinced that it is really able to revitalise old relationships that faded on their own and died of natural causes.

    We are friends with people due to circumstance and environment, once those change it is often inevitable that we will go our own ways and the glue which holds the relationship together comes unstuck as we no longer have our environment in common.

    What do you think?
  6. ryanbrymer says: #

    Fair questions. It somewhat saddens me to think about the implications of the answers.

    I hate to believe that my connections with people were only so deep as our environment at the time, but perhaps this is true. I guess I'm just sentimental that way.

    One thing is certain, the relationships that last are the ones that I never would have expected to.

    Furthermore, the ones that I've developed online are some that I never would have expected and a number of them have risen off of the page and into real life.