The Social Media Penalty Box

I’ve been on social media — Twitter, largely, Tumblr, occasionally, Facebook, unsuccessfully, and other networks as they flit in and out of faddishness — for several years now. There are a great many wonderful things about these tools. I’ve made new friends, cultivated sources, honed my newsgathering skills, found new job leads and gigs, and had fantastic, illuminating conversations about a whole host of subjects. My life is richer as a result.

What I don’t like, and haven’t for a while, is a common feature to Twitter and Facebook: the block button. No matter how many arguments are made that “it’s not personal” or “it’s a way to streamline what voices I’m paying attention to” blocking feels too permanent, too much like a nuclear option. There’s no question social media can be a dark, ugly place. Women bear the brunt of that ugliness, especially when they dare to speak their minds. Repeated epithets, the spectrum of stalking, those are good reasons to toss someone from your timeline for good. But when, as what happened last night, Guardian editor Heidi Moore asked respectful questions of NPR social media editor Andy Carvin about whether he was irresponsible in crowdsourcing information about Newtown, only to be blocked for her efforts and deemed a “troll”, you have to wonder why the social behavior dial is stuck at eleven forever. (See here for another treatment of the topic.)

The problem is that we’re adapting behavior to the social media we’re using instead of the opposite. Engineers at Twitter and Facebook came up with “Friend”/”Ignore”/”Block” (riffing off of the old Abort/Retry/Fail?) assuming that the seeming simplicity of coding, built upon binary numbers, could translate into real life. Think of it this way: in basketball, you get five fouls (NBA: six) before you’re no longer allowed to play in the game. In football, different infractions (false starts/holding/etc) lead to a specific number of yards gained or lost, which may be the difference between a first down and having to punt. And in hockey, there’s the penalty box, where the player stews for a little bit — usually two minutes — before he or she is allowed back on the ice.

Read more – >


About these ads