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.

Replicas of real-life spaces

Remember Second Life? In March Business Insider reported its membership as stable at nearly one million active users per month. The numbers haven’t changed much in 10 years despite little media coverage. Now, two hot little letters are about to make the Second Life experience more relevant than ever: VR.

Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Second Life developer Linden Lab, says “the world is waking up again”, which is probably a reference to immersive virtual reality, the hotbed of emerging tech that’s set to literally transform the virtual office:

Linden Lab is marshaling its expertise and experience in building immersive, functional virtual worlds to make a proper successor to the Second Life platform and take advantage of the bold new world of immersive VR. Specifically, Linden sees a huge opportunity in making it easier for people to build and share cool virtual reality experiences.

You could say my client in SF, TechSoup Global, is already there:

[Second Life] has workplace applications too: San Francisco-based nonprofit TechSoup hosts its monthly all-hands meetings in Second Life, where as many as 50 people meet in the virtual world — tools like Skype are too unwieldy for them at that scale, Altberg says, and it provides a way for them to be in the same room even when they’re not.

(Update: those meetings are weekly.) As time passes and business ebbs and flows, collaborating across sectors and borders will call for more user-generated content and virtual spaces fashioned after real ones — creating and collaborating — what I like to call the stuff of the future.

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.


Joan Rivers said it best when she joked about being shown pics of people’s ugly kids. Selfies, well, they might be about narcissism but there’s a lot of loneliness out there, and studies show that oversharing via social networks makes lonely people feel more connected. The more selfies, the lonelier the person. Narcissism seems a typical sign of insecurity anyway. We all get a good selfie in now and then, but there’s a line between normative behavior and mental aberration. It’s just creepy to see a person, pretty or not, post so many selfies, day after day after day. God I hope they don’t post my selfies when they find my phone.

Out of my mind

Now with one billion users worldwide, Facebook is in a prime position to play God with those who choose to use the service every day. In January 2012 Facebook manipulated the emotions of more than half a million people in the name of ‘research’.

For the ’emotional manipulation’ Facebook study, half of the subjects’ feeds consisted of ‘negative’ posts, while the other half was fed ’positive’ posts. Facebook then monitored them to see if their life outlook had changed based on the curated info. Whether or not you feel this undermines the already waning integrity of the social network, it’s clear now more than ever that Facebookers are little more than products—churning out heaps of data on the daily that are sold and used to calculate how best to manipulate the soul on the other end of the screen.

Adam Kramer, the FB data scientist who executed the study in 2012, says the idea was to see if an onslaught of negative information would cause people to leave or avoid the site.

Kashmir Hill (Forbes) puts ‘research’ in quotes like I do, suggesting that Facebook somehow skirted the standard ‘human subject’ rule used in science experiments. The social network’s data policy took advantage of a conveniently trusting constituency, all to run psychological tests, cloaked in consent forms. A bit disconcerting to consider how in a worst-case scenario the clinically depressed might fare, let alone the idea of Facebook engineers telling us what info is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ within our chosen social sphere. Kramer:

The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product. We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook.

Facebook users are products, and for Facebook to profit it needs a full shelf. Maybe our social web overlords will one day learn from this virtual Gulag and see that, in the end, Facebook was the reason we all left Facebook.