The antisocial backlash is in full swing! Umair called it a bubble, Tamar said it was boring & trendy, and the gloves are coming off with the rise of patently unfriendly social networks for meanies. Society’s gettin’ sick and tired of being so darn social.
What’s with the rise of ‘bad’ social sites like Unvarnished and Failings?
There are two camps in the social media flea market, with crossover. There’s the shopkeepers—marketers, community managers, entrepreneurs, developers, media—and the customers, the non-industry people who interact on the framework so carefully crafted by the shopkeepers. The crossover is the fact that shopkeepers are also consumers.
From both camps I’ve been feeling pushback against relentless SEFTTI (“social every fu©king thing there is”; gracias Doc Searls). Shopkeepers are sick of enthusiastic gurus who soak up their hard-fought battle plans with no real commitment to grueling content strategies (to hear Tamar tell it). Customers hate when Facebook updates their interface. And everybody has to be extra nicey-nice.
There is no “dislike” button on Facebook
Why? Well, the participatory web has attached your face to your online presence. It’s a Twitter chestnut: ensure your bio really contains info about you and your avatar really represents you. You know, for humanization purposes. Add that to logging in with Facebook Connect to comment on someone’s blog, multiply by an obsession with personal branding, and you got yourselves a web where you’ve got to be on your best behaviour at all times.
Your mother-in-law is, in fact, watching. And just like IRL, she’s affected by how you act in front of the world.
So it’s no surprise there’s a new trend towards social networks that niche on being less than nice. Both Failings—where you invite “friends” to anonymously suggest areas in need of personal, um, improvement—and Unvarnished, a sort of LinkedIn for a$$hole$—seek a social counterculture where nice is not necessary.
We get sick of being too nice. It’s like work. It is work. Social networks, customer-side, were meant to be places to relax and let it all hang out. Then socializing morphed into networking.
One thing we’ve learned in the struggle to come to grips with online privacy is that your opinions, once professed, are forever. Google caching isn’t the worst of it, either—Twitter just “donated” our tweeting histories to the American Library of Congress, for pity’s sake. How’s that for archival? I’m so glad I always delete tweets I think are too mean!
Being yourself, the only person you can be in these days of increasing online personal responsibility, means always having to say you’re sorry. If you’re a shopkeeper, you probably also have the weight of a company, brand or a host of clients who, disclaimers aside, are indeed reflected on if you go mental on the web. It’s a bit of a burden, this perpetually archived “conversation”. God forbid you have a bad hair day.
Failings and Unvarnished represent an attempt to steer things towards the dirt that people actually enjoy dishing & consuming. Bring sexy back, if you will. There are evolutionary motivators for enjoying gossip, but a cursory explanation is that it’s just more freakin’ fun, more cathartic, more hair-down-letting than always being upbeat and awesome-sauce.
I’d never use these networks, because I’m kept in line by the nonsense drive to eradicate everything questionable about me from the internet forever. But I get what their existence means. People are fed up with toeing the line.
“Drive by Anonymity”
Not surprisingly, in order to function, the bad (re: truthful) social sites collect the dirt anonymously. The attacked is known, but not the attacker.
To help reviewers be honest and candid in their reviews, Unvarnished obscures the identity of review authors. This lets reviewers share their true, nuanced opinions without fear of repercussions.
—Unvarnished About Page
Hey, a return to the original anonymous Wild West flame wars of yore!
Jaron Lanier, a guy who thinks about the web the way God thinks about Creation, says in his humanist exhortation You Are Not A Gadget that anonymity breeds trollishness, potential “unforseen social patholog(ies)”, and that
to have a substantial exchange…you need to be fully present. That is why facing one’s accuser is a fundamental right of the accused.
What he’s saying is you being you is the best way for you to be.
SoMe is here to stay
I think it’s obvious social is gonna be baked into to the web’s crust going forward. People have had a taste of participation, and they liked being the centre of attention. Corporations have had to get transparent, brands have had to respect consumer’s intelligence. It’s the natural shift in the balance of power when attention becomes scarce, and people dig it.
Social isn’t going anywhere, but we still have to come to terms we can live with in the always-on, reputation-based future. We’ve got Kirk Cameron-level growing pains.
Maybe this is a GenX thing; I’ve heard it said that digital natives are quite comfortable always thinking of themselves as having an audience. Perhaps the niceness overload we grownups are experiencing will wash away when the cool waves of the next Pepsi Refresh splash over us, reinvigorating our love for this thing called social media.