Thursday, July 11, 2013

Good, bad and ugly: 7 critics of social media

I’m of an age
(56) where lots of my contemporaries show contempt towards social media. It’s
rarely a reasoned argument, simply a sneer accompanied by a ‘I’m too good for
that sort of thing’ attitude. Euan Semple made the valid point on Facebook that
Not being attracted
to the social web is OK but adopting a sneering tone when you tell me that,
frankly, isn’t.
” and that it’s not easy dealing with the
criticism as the debate as it’s very difficult arguing the case for something
your opponent has never used or has no real knowledge of.

1. Know nothing critics

Unfortunately, the most common are those who simply scoff
and start with something like “Why would
I want to know that someone is having a cup of tea…
” Barely a week goes by
without me experiencing this type of criticism. They haven’t used social media but
assume they’re experts on the subject, pull the ‘ugly’ face and sneer as the
rest of us. It’s a sort of superior attitude usually accompanied by simplistic,
ill-informed views of how social media is actually created and used. All of
those Wikipedia articles you’ve used, they were crowdsourced. Ever watched a
YouTube video, someone made that and uploaded it.

2. Know a little critics

A little learning is a dangerous thing and some use one
aspect of, say facebook, but have no idea that the tool also includes messaging,
apps and other functionality. It’s like someone who thinks a car is only useful
for social visits to friends and relatives. NO - you can also use a car to get
to work, do work, engage in poltics, visit interesting places, go on holiday
and so on. Social media for many people, replaces email, voice calls and txting
and the sheer range of social media options means that it has many different

3. Lurkers

First, it’s OK to lurk. Some of you reading this sentence
will be lurkers, indeed the evidence suggests that in many social media, and media
sharing services with a social dimension, the great majority of users are lurkers,
who rarely if ever post or comment. What is odd is when the lurkers turn into
critics. They take out a lot, but only give back criticism, sharing is a
mystery to them.

4. Hypocrites

Let me give you an example.  Pew surveyed 2,462
middle and high school teachers and found that , when it comes to Wikipedia; 1)
Teachers recommend that students do not use it, warning them that its
accuracy can’t be trusted, but 2)  Teachers
overwhelmingly use it themselves for research and preparation. In fact, they
use it “at much higher rates than U.S. adult internet users as a whole (87% vs.
53%), Pew also found that Wikipedia reliance “does not vary across teachers of
different subjects, grade levels, or community types,” and only varies ever so
slightly by age, with 90% of the youngest teachers using it versus 85% of those
55 and older. This is ugly.

5. Know but don’t engage

Some don’t do social media because they simply don’t want to
or don’t have the time. That’s fine. This is good. These critics I like. It’s OK
not to engage in social media in the same way that it’s OK not to engage in
lots of social events, go to the cinema, theatre, football, cricket or music
festivals. It’s not for everyone. These people don’t moan and whinge about
social media, it’s just not part of their lives. In fact I rather resent the
social media Taliban, who insist on everyone being online and everyone needing
to be highly ‘social’.

6. Privacy (weak)

Some don’t like to put their neck out and have their lives
out there for others to see. This is good, as long as it doesn’t tip over into
criticising others for being more social, taking risks and enjoying the range
of social, professional and interesting interactions that social media brings.
I’ll come to a theory on this later.

7. Privacy (strong)

A stronger argument is the species of critic who values
their privacy and has suspicions about government, big business and other shady
institutions knowing what they’re up to. I respect this position and think that
for some, it is a valid argument. Julian Assange, for example, never uses
Facebook for that reason. Given recent revelations, the US government is
clearly not to be trusted on the matter. However, I think it’s exaggerated.
What exactly in your life do you think they can use against you?

Characteristics of critics

Here’s an observation, not based on any research that I know
of, merely a hypothesis. I have noticed two specific characteristic that
distinguishes enthusiastic users of social media, from sceptics and critics; 1)
personality type and 2) risk taking.

1) Introversion and extroversion.
On the whole, the people I know who are extroverts are enthusiastic users of social
media, introverts tend to be non-participants or critics (3 good, 2 bad, 2
ugly). This is not a criticism, merely an observation, and it perhaps reflects a
general attitude towards networking and social activity by extroverts and
introverts both online and offline. This is reflected in my full acceptance of
non-participants and the privacy stance (weak and strong). The downside of
extrovert dominance is the tendency for people to present their ideal lives
online. There’s a lot of showboating that masquerades as sharing.

2) Risk taking. For
me, this is a more interesting issue, as I suspect that much of the criticism
of social media comes from an intrinsic fear of taking risks that expresses
itself as derision. Nervousness often expresses itself as scepticism and scorn.
On the whole, the risk takers I know, in business and life, tend to be users of
social media, or at least willing to give it a try. Good risk takers are also
able to distinguish between good and bad risks, that’s why I respect those who
are wary on the grounds of privacy.

Social media Taliban

After all I’ve said above it may surprise you that I don’t
follow the groupthink view that we should strive to get everyone online. I’m a
libertarian at heart, and for me going online and using social media is a
matter of choice. I have little time for spending huge sums of money on this
form of mock inclusion. Make it cheap and compelling and they will come. I can
remember when print and TV journalists constantly sneered at social media and the
web, now they all have their blogs and Twitter accounts. The numbers speak for themselves.

Neither am I a social constructivist and therefore keen on
those who see all learning as social and ‘connectivism’ as a valid ‘theory’ of
learning. I spend relatively little time, for example, in MOOCs on forums, and
don’t much like the diffuse chat that passes for learning or training sessions
where round tables construct flipchart pages blue-tacked to the walls. On the
other hand I see social media as an invaluable part of my life and learning.


Having used social media since its inception and blogged,
facebooked and tweeted for many years, I’ve come across a large number of
critics. I respect those who simply opt out as well as those who don’t
participate on grounds of privacy (weak and strong). That’s three of my
categories. On the other hand, I resent those who simply sneer and/or don’t
have any real knowledge of these media in terms of their functionality, actual
use and potential. I’m also impatient with the hypocrisy behind lurkers who
sneer, and duplicitous hypocrites who condemn but use it at the same time. Stay
clear or share, don’t just take or sneer.

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