Sunday, 18 September 2011
"Why Was I Unfollowed?": Social Networking and the New Etiquette
Throughout the history of human communication, the printed word, our dictionaries, our verbal discourse, and the etiquette surrounding that communication, have developed organically. With the introduction into our social lexicon, of rapid internet based communication, through such tools as Facebook and Twitter, etiquette has evolved at a fascinating rate. It is the purpose of this piece to look at a number of examples of how this is evident and to, hopefully, instigate discussion around it.
Whilst much behaviour could be argued to be learnt through example, what examples are we learning from through Twitter and Facebook? In everyday conversation, something may be said flippantly, not heard possibly and forgotten about, but comments made on social networks are saved and broadcast worldwide, and more poignantly, are saved for a period of time. Is as much care been put into postings on Twitter as is necessary? Or, has the new etiquette decreed that postings on social networking sites are to be taken flippantly?
The process of "following" and "unfollowing" on Twitter poses many interesting questions. How much care and consideration is put into the act of "following"? If someone on Twitter is posting discussions or comments you find disagreeable, is the act of "unfollowing" a statement in itself, or an act that suggests you may not wish to be exposed to discussion outside of your personal sphere, or in other words "burying your head in the sand" so those topics will disappear? To start following on Twitter is now almost regarded as a commitment. "Why was I unfollowed? Was it something I said?" There seems to be a further etiquette at play in terms of "following back". Is it seen as good manners to follow back a user who follows you? Is that now seen as a respectful thing to do? Blindly following back can lead to an unwieldy timeline and an invitation for users to advertise their products to a captive audience.
The relative anonymity of twitter users renders them immune from many of the social constructs that we already have in place within our communities, or so it seems. We are communicating in, quite literally, a virtual world, where the old rules of discussion are no longer relevant. It is acceptable to interrupt a conversation and interject ideas uninvited. This of course, can be argued, is the very essence of Twitter and other social networks, and should be encouraged. It is not the purpose of this piece to argue one way or the other, but to highlight how our rules of engagement are being mutated rapidly by messages of 140 character or less that have difficulty in conveying character, nuance or emotion.....:-)