The social media witch-hunt that was largely responsible for NBC News suspending news anchor Brian Williams for six months was a scary thing to behold.
NBC management simply couldn’t withstand the mob at the gate. Instead of fighting back they took away the raw meat to calm the attackers. If Williams couldn’t survive, could you if someone clubbed you on social media?
No Time, No Time at All
Williams was caught in a lie, which he admitted and then he apologized. But the network didn’t have the luxury of conducting a thoughtful investigation of his reporting on other events and perhaps doling out a less severe punishment.
It’s doubtful that Williams will return. The six months suspension was probably just a more gentle way to push him out.
My point is that all of us are but one step away from character assassination. Just one tweet or post is all that’s required to take you down. But it’s not only real people, but also technology that can be the enemy.
Think of Google suspending your account if you’re on online merchant, taking you completely by surprise because you didn’t even know something was wrong. You have to make the required changes and then ask for a re-evaluation of your account. That takes time.
What are your customers to think? Will they trust your site when you’re back up? Will they even come back at all?
People to People
The broadcast and print media have had standards in place for years to evaluate what makes for acceptable advertisements. But a human being at the news outlet was the first filter, not an algorithm. And most likely the sales rep on the account would be notified and he would pick up the phone and tell his client. The client could make a quick fix, or substitute another ad. It wasn’t “off with your” head when you weren’t looking.
Most often the offending ad wouldn’t appear to begin with. Back in the day (and maybe still), an ad agency would send a storyboard commercial to the network’s standards people for a preliminary approval and there would be back-and-forthing to get the ad right. People to people.
A Faceless Community
I sat down to write this post after reading a thoughtful, and somewhat scary, opinion piece in the Sunday New York Times by Stephen Marche entitled The Epidemic of Facelessness. He described how people tweet and post threats to strangers and think nothing of it. Just fun. Not when the recipient fears for her life.
As the perpetrator who threatened a member of the British Parliament casually tweeted, “If you can’t threaten to rape a celebrity, what is the point in having them?” Indeed.
Marche quoted Dick Costolo, chief executive of Twitter, who, in a leaked memo, said about inflammatory tweets, “I’m frankly ashamed of how poorly we’ve dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO.”
Several studies, Marche writes, discovered that without face-to-face contact we lose empathy and compassion. “Emojis are an explicit attempt to replicate the emotional context that facial expression provides,”he said.
But smiley faces are a poor substitute for understanding another person’s emotions and feelings as you look into her eyes.
Marche goes on the write, “In a world without faces, compassion is a practice that requires discipline, even imagination. Social media seems so easy; the whole point of its pleasure is its sense of casual familiarity. But we need a new art of conversation for the new conversations we are having — and the first rule of that art must be to remember that we are talking to human beings.” (my emphasis).
Blogs and websites with videos and images attract more readers. HubSpot cites 19 Reasons You Should Include Visual Content in Your Marketing [Data]. I think the primary reason is because videos and images are the available substitutes for the personal interaction that people crave.
So it’s no surprise that usage of Skype and Google Hangouts has skyrocketed. As The Wall Street Journal reported, ”Skype’s growth of 54 billion minutes is a full 50% higher than the growth of the rest of the international calling industry combined.”
I was on a Hangout a couple of weeks ago with friends I’ve made on LinkedIn. I had never met them face-to-face. It was fun to see the faces behind their avatars. Honestly, we did more laughing than talking about the topic of our conversation. That’s what personal interaction does for you.
If you stop by my blog pretty regularly you may have noticed that I now use a large featured image at the beginning of each post and have added more images to my service offerings. I was feeling that my old design was a little impersonal.
Maybe it was my small attempt to inject more personality – my personality – into my site. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just making this up after the fact. I do know the feeling of loneliness that comes with being glued to a computer for most of the day, as so many people are.
I truly miss the conversations around the water cooler with people I could shoot the bull with. Eye-to-eye. Person-to-person. But that era is gone and no sense moaning about it.