Public Discourse as Performance?
Disclaimer: This post features an image that contains adult language.
I found myself in a rather fascinating albeit heated discussion recently in which several colleagues and associates discussed the performance aspect of our online communications. As social media becomes increasingly ubiquitous to communications strategies, companies that fail to establish a culture of openness and collaboration with their customers on the social Web face serious obstacles in positioning themselves against their own competition. Why? Because others are watching. There’s a distinct yet subtle difference between understanding your target audience‘s response to organizational or corporate messaging and pandering to the same.
The web comic “Penny Arcade” featured below famously hypothesized that, given an audience and anonymity, an otherwise well-manner individual will adopt anti-social language and behavior.
Clay Shirky, who studies social and economic effects of Internet technologies, explains: “There’s a large crowd and you can act out in front of it without paying any personal price to your reputation,” which “creates conditions most likely to draw out the typical Internet user’s worst impulses.” (Doig, Will (February 26, 2008). ”Homophobosphere”. The Advocate (1002)) The assumed anonymity of Internet communication often ratchets up dissent and magnifies prejudices, fears and insecurities birthed in the real world.
It’s a fascinating observable social phenomenon that is building in intensity as rancor and vitriol in civil discourse are hitting undeniably uncomfortable levels. Technologies that enable conversation, connection and collaboration (i.e. social networking sites) are contributing to the persistence of entrenched attitudes about race, class, gender and social position—and entire nicheworks and subcultures are birthed in the process around an identifying ethos.
As the social web matures, I’ll be very interested to see how that online ecosystem balances the openness of online communication with the phenomenon described by Clay Shirky. Will we see the digital ecosystem self-regulate apart from the analog?