April 9th, 2012
It seems that nearly every news item that makes its way onto Twitter or Facebook is first expressed through reportage (simple links and tweets with headlines), followed by a fire hose of hate and mockery, and sometimes a backlash against the backlash. A couple examples include:
- Susan Boyle: “Her popularity in Britain had been tempered by the ‘Boyle backlash,’ a phenomenon created and christened by the national media which at first hyped her natural talent and then attacked her for being overhyped.”
- Steve Jobs‘ passing: (Online comment reacting to S.F. vigil in memory of Jobs): “Disgusting. A vigil for a telephone? How about one for the millions of congolese raped and killed in a war over the minerals needed to create laptops and phones that become obsolete in a matter of months so that a corporation can reap billions of dollars?!”
- Samantha Brick, first attacked for “complaining” that her attractiveness was a nuisance, with reactions like : ”Most people have beer goggles. She has a beer mirror.” “I’m sure she has a ‘best’ side, but I think she’s sitting on it,” and then defended, in an unusual online turnaround.
- Olive Garden review, written by 85-year-old Marilyn Hagerty, “went viral” in mockery of Hagerty, but then saw some reversal. Anthony Bourdain tweeted, “very much enjoying watching Internet sensation Marilyn Hagerty triumph over the snarkologists (myself included).”
So what is it in us that drives the angry online reactions to almost anything in the news? For many years, both national and local media were accused of pandering to viewers. Every newscast started with a sensationalist teaser and highlighted stories of killings, disasters and crime. Now that social networking has democratized reporting, and we are all journalists, everyone is tempted to pander.
I’m not sure it can be stopped. It’s human to want attention and it’s easy to get by being outspoken. A while ago I realized I was being a little too agressive on this blog for openly and harshly criticizing people who had committed social media and PR gaffes, and decided to call attention to the bad behavior and propose alternatives, rather than making it about people.
I also tried to raise my own fairness standards, and recorded my own set of guiding principles in what I call The Social Media Love Manifesto. Unfortunately, in the war of influence, the idea of social media love hasn’t drawn much interest, and is in danger of cancellation.