Monday, October 06, 2008

Calling Out Bad Behaviour on Twitter (or On Un-Following)

"Manners are of more importance than laws. .. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation like that of the air we breathe in." - Edmund Burke

One of the things I find interesting about jumping into social networks and services when they're relatively new is watching the social norms develop. Even with terms of service and complaint mechanisms, it's largely the users who determine what's OK and what's not using the only currency this environment has: attention. Watched, the user has a voice, ideas can propagate, but ignored they're speaking to an empty room, memes wither and die. But is ignoring someone enough? I've been reading a bunch of pieces on Twitter etiquette recently, but none have discussed calling out bad behaviour online, so consider this piece an attempt to start that discussion.

Some background first. I've been using Twitter (in plain English) since BarCamp Canberra in April. I'd heard about it before then, but I didn't really have a use for it until then. Turned out it did a bunch of stuff: it was the inaudible PA for the day, broadcasting schedule updates, as well as a back-channel (1,2,3) for attendees to meet & greet and discuss what was going on. Interactivity FTW.

There's good stuff happening, so I've hung around. I've microblogged/liveblogged, kept in touch with folk in the Canberra IA community, solved technical problems and participated in a 'net broadcast (narrowcast?) project. With hashtags, Twitter is good at adding an interactive dimension to live events, particularly broadcast, from relatively small scale to large scale. It's a bit addictive. (I'm going to have to ignore the Amazing Race messages though; can't have spoilers)

It's not all happy happy joy joy though. As with any social space, people disagree. I've seen spirited but respectful, concise debates (points would have to be concise with only 140 characters per message), and while I've not seen them, I'm sure there've been petty, snarky arguments too.

Only a handful of posts I've seen have really disappointed me; one included a photo taken by the poster in a client's house and posted, ostensibly without permission, while another was a quixotic statement of indifference about an event a bunch of people were commenting on. The first was creepy; I'd be pretty angry if a tech support/tradie/whoever that I was paying for goods/services came into my place and started snapping away and putting the pictures online. The second was just a bit obnoxious, a personality quirk not entirely unexpected, in retrospect, amongst all of the extroverts revealing the minutiae of their lives online.

I can't control what others do, I can only control how I react to what they do, so what did I do when I came across these two examples? With the first I tried subtlety; I asked what the client thought about having their stuff photographed and shared, and when I didn't like the answer, I un-followed. I let the other go like water under the bridge, but their reputation took a small hit with me.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing" - not Edmund Burke

Should I have done something else, something more? Should I have put an objection on the record before un-following? I've seen plenty of "Why should I follow you in return?" hand-shaking posts, but I've not come across any "I don't think that's cool, so I'm going to stop following you" posts. They're either happening in private direct messages, or not happening. I guess breaking up connections online is easy when you don't have to explain, but I can't help but think that the world might progressively become a little bit better if we each took the time to politely explain why we're un-following. If only a few have an introspective pause and stop being a dick online, then we're all better off. 


Posted by Dean @ 10/06/2008 10:29:00 am

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we're trialling using yammer (ie a corporate twitter platform) at my organisation.

yet to see if its adding any value, really, but its early days.

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ Monday, October 06, 2008 8:34:00 pm #
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