Social media and the culture of silence

“This strange machinery is keeping you from seeing me. We’ve all moved on from here, the colour’s running dry. A drowsy line of wasted time bathes my open mind.” Ride, Chrome Waves

Is technology bringing us together or pulling us apart? A 2014 report hints at the emergence of a culture of silence in social media, where people suppress their views if perceived to be in the minority, for fear of rejection. Pre-internet studies show how people tend not to be vocal about policy issues in public (or among family, friends and coworkers) when they think their views might not be shared. This is called the ‘spiral of silence’.

The Pew Research Center ran a survey to gauge people’s opinions on Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of widespread government surveillance of Americans’ phone and email records. The survey found that far fewer Americans are willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in social media than they are in person, illustrating how the ‘spiral of silence’ holds true for popular social networking sites.

The report also found Facebook users half as likely as others to share their opinions in face-to-face (F2F) settings, suggesting the emergence of a more pervasive culture of silence as mainstream social media grows.

LinkedIn’s plan to bridge sectors

Linkedin CEO Jeff Weiner has a big vision for the next 10 years — a plan that now involves matching professionals with social sector projects that can effectively utilize their passions and skills, while giving underserved communities access to creating more economic opportunity. Last year LinkedIn identified TechSoup Global as a potential partner to help build demand for its LinkedIn for Good program, which really excites me and here’s why:

Between 2008 and 2013 LinkedIn membership jumped from 32 to 277 million. (My LinkedIn profile was one of the top 10% most viewed — out of about 200 million — for 2012.) Then in 2014, more than two million members (and this number will grow) signed up for LinkedIn for Good, showing there are plenty of able hands willing to get dirty for a good cause. But the current lack of available work caused by an imbalance between volunteers and program partners means there’s a lot of expertise sitting on the sidelines. Not good if you’re in the game to play.

In this article from Stanford Social Innovation Review John Cary, the former lead of Public Architecture’s 1% program, warns against ‘learned helplessness’, a psychology term that describes what happens when volunteers sign up for work that fails to utilize their potential. Sure disengagement is rough, especially where it can be avoided, but solutions do exist, I’ve seen them. Cary says “building demand is a high-touch affair”, one that “requires significant relationship building” across sectors that are “very segregated in general, so there aren’t a lot of authentic relationships between contrasting cultural boundaries”.

Kyle Reis, TechSoup’s senior director for Global Data Services, sees “an opportunity to collaborate with others working in the space to unlock a potentially enormous resource for thousands of nonprofits around the world”. Translate: it won’t be long before the pro bono space becomes a prospector’s race for the best human resources on the planet. And with a database of more than 600,000 nonprofits worldwide and a service list of more than 100,000 organizations per year, TechSoup Global is in pole position.

Finding a solution to bridge sectors won’t be easy but we know where to start. When we do we can apply that solution to larger cross-sector initiatives. The ‘every day social’ of what we do on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter is a fine way to forge connections that can lead to the cross-sector collaborations Cary alludes to. More demand means we’ll find a solution sooner. And one thing science taught me is that when you find a plan that works, you stick to it.

Conference on Social Media for Good, Istanbul

I’ve been selected to speak at The International Conference on Social Media for Good in Istanbul in May. The selection process was extended a few weeks due to an overwhelming global response, so the conference should be an interesting one! My paper will offer a conceptual framework for a community-based digitally immersive social networking application for CSOs, and I will present for discussion the role of meta networks in facilitating a more robust global reporting structure via said app.

Abstracts and agenda will be posted on the Kimse Yok Mu (KYM) site soon.

About the Conference:Kimse Yok Mu (KYM) is an international NGO carrying out humanitarian aid and development projects in 110 countries. Following the International Conference on Philanthropy and Peacebuilding — organized by the Academic Studies Department of KYM in collaboration with the Journalist and Writers Foundation and Istanbul Bilgi University, with the participation of 25 academicians from 19 countries in April 2014 — the 2015 Conference aims to reveal theoretical contributions as well as representative practices addressing the use of new generation internet applications to generate social benefit. Follow @KYM_Academic.

Istanbul Conference 2015 full

Should I unfollow you?

“We’re among the first generations expected to maintain connections with every single person we’ve ever met, thanks to the Internet.” Helena Price

Photographer Helena Price decided one night before bed to unfollow everyone on the Internet. Easier said than done. Basically any network she frequented throughout the day that she passed off as ‘productive’. For Price (and I’m betting for many photographers) this meant Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, all image-rich, content-heavy-in-your-face-honey-I-shrunk-the-day social networks.

She wanted to see if she could recreate the Internet in a more productive way, de-cluttering her brain and doing what she wanted, instead of living in someone else’s feed, inspirational or not.

For Price the addiction was real. She hit withdrawal immediately after ‘purging’, instinctively opening apps she knew had empty feeds, like an amputee reaching for a leg that’s not there. One month later she’s sharing her success on Medium with a take on minimalism that will make you feel lighter just reading it.

And here’s the deal. Minimalism is good for leaders. Being more focused on fewer things makes a healthier, less cluttered path to success than muddling through with little or no focus. (Think ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’.) I’ve seen this principle at work in my own life.

Organizing even our ‘inspirational’ inputs can be a profound experiment waiting to happen. It might not be for everyone, but those brave enough to try it might come away with a powerful lesson on what matters and what doesn’t, online and off.