Navigating the minefield of internet communication can be an increasingly daunting task.
During the past year, truth and fact have lost their luster and now what you are saying is becoming trumped by how you are saying it. Seemingly tiny social slip-ups have resulted in lost jobs, destroyed reputations, awkward public statements and apologies even from public figures and major brands. Social media provides a fruitful platform for recreational outrage, internet trolls, and general toxic behavior. Brand and social media managers are nowadays quite savvy to netiquette, but there is an area that often gets neglected. Brands are increasingly more often indirectly affected when their own employees, or the influencers and public personas they work with, are caught in the crossfire of internet hooligans whose only mission is to watch the world burn. Here are some practical examples of some of the pitfalls of modern online communication and how easily you end up on the but end of an internet meme.
The Social Justice League
The term social justice warrior originates from the previous century, but today it is used to describe individuals aggressively promoting socially progressive views online, often at the expense of others. It’s a term that has a negative connotation, and describes the type of activism that seeks awareness with disregard to the havoc and casualties it leaves in its wake. While it can be debated that the causes represented, including equal rights, anti-xenophobia and feminism, are regularly considered as good, the end justifies the means methods tend to cause some life-affecting ramifications for those who end up in their line of sights. Typical tactics of social justice warriors pertain to publicly and collectively announcing, pointing out, and attacking derogatory behavior on social media, with often morally ambiguous methods of public humiliation and public shaming. These methods often work as catalysts that ignite a mob mentality that attracts active bystanders to chime in and share the activists’ carefully selected quotes - which are often pulled out of context to best serve a precise agenda. Social justice warriors can seek out targets by using simple online search tools. Hashtags with negative connotations are simple pathways to seek out new targets, especially on platforms like Twitter. When they find a suitable marks with potential to make headlines, they often go for the throat with limited regard to personal consequences of their targets. Solution: in this time of social hypersensitivity, it’s best to steer clear from talking politics, ideology and other divisive topics. In other words, STFU.
Everyone wins – in their own mind
Debating is often a natural and productive form of communication, as it can inspire new ideas and a new way of thinking. Take away the face-to-face human element and you are often left with a never-ending thread of scum and villainy. There are no debate moderators online to decide who wins or loses, and there’s no time cutoff. Thus, many an online debate an argument goes on far too long and someone ends up triggering sinkholes from where there is no return to reason. This is especially the case on Twitter and other platforms with a limited character counts, which leave too much room for misinterpretation. Harmless comments can be, accidentally or even intentionally, misconstrued and taken out of context to represent something that you or your brand is not. While online debates do provide heartwarming entertainment for gloomy autumn evenings, it’s quite easy for them to get out of hand. While to you it may look and feel like you have the upper hand on the debate, there seldom are any winners. The best outcome for winning a debate on social media often leaves Facebook friends or Twitter followers begrudging, frustrated, angry or all of the above. Facts, statements, and prior comments are fragmented into a strain of short tweets, each its own entity, each that can be individually taken out of context. Twitter battles and conspicuous debates have also become cannon fodder for various afternoon media outlets looking for easy clicks.This is why it is important for brands to not only equip brand and community managers with communications guidelines for social media, but also to train all employees and influencers give them a taste on what ramifications a relatively harmless joke can have for them and their employers. Solution: teach your stakeholders to STFU.
Don’t feed them after midnight… Better yet, don’t feed them at all
Recreational outrage is to actively seek out topics to be offended and complain about for the sake of arguing. It is something many of us may take part in inadvertently while communicating online. This is often linked to Schadenfreude, a social behavior that has been around since long before the term was invented, but laughing at other people’s misgivings has reached an entirely new plane of existence online. This is where the internet troll resides. If you or your brand have significant reach online and you feel the absolute need to start voicing your views and opinions online, this will often act as a homing beacon which will entice internet trolls to crawl up from under their bridges. A troll will often start by softly voicing a contrary opinion or objection and subtlely attaching a hashtag or a Twitter-handle to bait you into replying. After this is achieved, they will try to escalate the conversation with mockery, outrage and often self-imposed victimization. The modern troll will often trap you with facts that it pulls from google searches and misinformation and personal attacks when you try to get the upper hand. For many a troll, any kind of response is the objective. Trolls thrive on attention and do it purely for recreation and self-indulgence. So, you have to ask yourself, what kind of outcome do you really expect to get from replying? Solution: again... STFU.
Eat. Tweet. Don’t repeat. And for goodness sake, don’t delete
When communicating online, it’s almost impossible to avoid some missteps and folly when trodding down the long and winding road. There may come a point when you realize that the situation has escalated to the point of no return or the that you yourself are in the wrong. Internet trolling 101 is taking screenshots of what is being said and using that as ammunition when comments or social media posts get deleted. Coming up with narratives, evidence and elaborate anecdotes to support your side of the story more often than not will leave you worse for wear. We are only human after all, mistakes are inevitable. Sometimes the best action is to put ego aside post a human response. This can be painful in the short term, but smart for you or your brand in the long run. A sincere admittance of fault or an apology can be the best method to disarm your internet adversaries. But what if you feel ill-equipped to de-escalate the situation? Well, that’s where communications experts come into play.
Good communication is often knowing when to STFU
The intention of this blog post in not to discourage social communication and dialogue online. Quite the contrary, the purpose is to help you or your brand to recognize and circumnavigate the foreseeable pitfalls in your path. Take what you will of this blog post and disregard what is not relevant to your business.