The Savagery of Social – implications for internal communication

This, I suspect, may get me into trouble. Let’s talk about the nastier side of social media for a moment, and then let’s consider the implications that arise for internal communication and the already established trend of using enterprise social networks like Yammer, Workplace by Facebook and, well, Sharepoint. (There are others, clearly – like Slack and Unily – arguably collaboration tools, or bespoke intranets, but as it’s all about ‘sharing’ – and odds are on that ‘conversation’ is also being mentioned – they’ve got all the characteristics of the established social media channels.)

And that’s the issue, really. Here’s a piece from The Irish Times (written by Jennifer O’Connell) which says ‘social media has shown us that when humans gather with no rules, savagery prevails’ and goes on to say ‘there’s a brutality now in the way we communicate with one another that did not exist before social media’. The article, which is definitely worth a few minutes, starts out looking at Ed Sheeran’s decision to leave Twitter, touches on the Orange Mussolini in the White House and uses personal experience to further illustrate the point. And it’s all demonstrably true.

Quite some time ago, I attempted to categorise this phenomenon. (If you can be bothered, you can find my original post here.) It’s ‘an ailment that afflicts a small but significant proportion of the population when they are presented with the opportunity to post whatever they like to a public forum’ – appearing to be compulsive and involuntary. It can take the form of simple intolerance of anyone else’s point of view, or extreme bad language, or posting of inappropriate material (visual or written), or racial harassment or career-threatening stupidity. That it’s a small proportion of the population is important – although the Brexit ‘debate’ has shown that the proportion may be larger than first imagined – however, as is always the case, it only takes one.

So – what does this mean for enterprise social networks? First, let’s go back to the Irish Times piece (above) and note the words ‘with no rules’. Social media have no rules, and anyone can say whatever they like, hiding behind a blank avatar and an anonymous username. Obviously, in the workplace, there will be rules governing the use of corporate intranets, collaboration tools and how employees represent their employer on external social media. Won’t there?

Well, actually, not necessarily. From personal experience, there are companies that have not thought about a code of practice. That do not have a Use of Social Media Policy. That – and this is terrifying – won’t implement guidelines because they don’t see them being at one with the spirit of social media. It’s all about sharing and collaboration and conversation, apparently – placing guidelines on how you do it would stifle its very essence. Hang the potential consequences.

Again, quite some time ago, I did a piece on my experience of implementing a very early version of an enterprise social network. (And again, if you can be bothered, you can read the whole thing here.) The conclusion was – ‘give people a voice and they will use it, as if it is a right. They will use it despite the fact they have nothing to say. They will use it to settle grievances, even scores, wash dirty laundry, put hearts on sleeves, bare souls and share the unthinkable. And probably try to unscrew the inscrutable, given half the chance.’

There are many companies (three that I know personally) – no names, no pack drill – who use enterprise social networks. There are consultancies who offer to implement an enterprise social network in your business. My experience is that they do not work – amongst the workplace as a whole – as they were meant to, generally because a busy workforce does not have the time to add an extra layer of complexity to its day-to-day and also – obviously – because not everyone wants to share their work. Because it’s theirs.

So what happens is that the expensive tool becomes a means for the few to blow their own trumpets and a further few to ‘like’ the fact that they’ve done so. And there is always the risk of wholly inappropriate, reputation-damaging content – although, in fairness, there is a less of it than I envisaged, way back when. But still, the expensive tool is a reflection of the shiny object that it imitates – faint, but a reflection nonetheless. And if social is becoming increasingly savage, thoughtless, stupid and radical then – without the policies, guidelines, checks and balances in place – so must your internal network.

From all of this, there are clear take-outs:

  • If you have an enterprise social network, govern it with a strict policy
  • Have a corporate ‘Use of Social Media’ policy in any case – you never know when you’ll need it
  • If you haven’t got an enterprise social network, think carefully – do you need one, or is it Shiny Object Syndrome?
  • Remember, the role of internal communication is to keep the workforce appraised of the organisation’s successes, vision, values, strategy, policies, procedures and its corporate religion, thereby generating a sense of belonging, belief and purpose. It is not to encourage free debate around these things, as Google has found out.

 

We Need To Talk About Privacy

I tried, rather ineffectually, probably, to address this point recently and, because I had a word limitation, didn’t really do the topic justice. What I was trying to get at, in a ham-fisted and blancmange-minded way, was that our relationship with privacy has changed, and is being changed, irrevocably, and no-one has really seemed to notice.

At least I assume that’s the reason for the quite awe-inspiring levels of apathy being displayed in relation to doing something about it. (And yes, I’m in there with the awe-inspiring apatheticals and in some ways, I’m worse because here I am writing about it, without the slightest intention of marching on the offices of Facebook or MI5, brandishing a banner reading ‘What do I want ? Privacy! When do I want it? Not going to tell you!’)

And speaking of Facebook, which I was, I read just last night of what it takes to get into their office as an outsider. Amongst other things, it involves signing  a multi-page and multi-section confidentiality agreement. Lest any of us have forgotten, this is the same Facebook that was founded – and is run – by the odious boy turd Zuckerberg, he of the belief that ‘privacy is no longer the norm’. Unless you’re him, or happen to work for his company, in which case, privacy is rather more than the norm, seemingly.

Privacy is becoming the province of the privileged. It’s something you’ll end up having to pay for, and it’ll be the few that can afford it. And how did this happen – grandchildren will asked their wizened, online grandparents – and the answer will come back in a regretful whisper ‘because we didn’t value it and we gave it away’. And – as I will take delight in exemplifying later – we’re doing it even though we know we’re doing it and even though we’re being told that we’re doing it, by those who are facilitating the doing on our behalf. See what I mean about apathy?

But quickly, before I get on to what is for me, anyway, the almost illicit pleasure of stripping the sequins off of social media (using social media in a very loose sense here), my target today – lovely blogtrotters mine – being the so-many-levelly ridiculous Snapchat, I just wanted to have a quick dig around the issue of privacy, just so posterity knows what I was on about.

Privacy works two ways, especially when it comes to the ubiquity of t’interweb. And in both ways, it is increasingly going horribly wrong – and for all sorts of different reasons. Even I cannot blame social media themselves for the avalanchical erosion of what used to be a valued and fiercely-protected right, no – it’s a combination of corporate profiteering, uncontrolled new technology (I’ve always maintained that the internet should have been regulated way back in the early ’90s – blame the media hippies) and the absolute propensity for being a complete cretin that characterises a (very) large proportion of the world’s population.

So privacy’s gone, because people give it away via a lack of understanding of what they’re doing, and the ramifications that their actions might have (I doubt Sally Bercow’s reading – she’s probably still wondering how she’s going to raise the money to pay McAlpine). Privacy’s gone because some people believe that, because others have started on the road to giving it away, it’s OK to take it (as amply evidenced by Leveson). But privacy still exists for those who arguably shouldn’t have it – the viewers of illegal websites that go on to commit horrific crimes – they have privacy not because they’re not giving it away (by using a computer with an individual IP address, you’re identifying yourself, or at least your whereabouts) but because – for one reason or another, the ISPs don’t want to share that data with the authorities.

All cock-eyed, d’you see. Mental. Privacy needs to be addressed. Maintained for those who will miss it later – no matter how hard they try to give it away – and stripped from the undeserving. Clearly, one solution would be to turn off the internet.

Pause.

Another solution would be to have some sort of global recognition system – a password unique to you – that you’d have to submit to before accessing the internet. The problem with that, obviously (and as was gleefully pointed out to me by someone who thought they’d seen the fatal flaw in my argument) is that you’d really have to keep your unique identity very private indeed, or some horrible gnoll would be masquerading as you before you could say ‘brazzers’.  But for those of us who are sensible enough manage to keep our passwords and PINs secret, so what’s the deal with a unique password. And even if enough deeply flawed people prove that it’s not going to work, then how about biometrics. Just thinkin’.

Anyhoo. Snapchat. Well, apart from sounding like one of those dodgy premium ‘phone lines that are advertised on the late night telly when you’re watching (or is it just me) Blade III on Five Star, it’s another photo sharing site. But what makes it quite mind-bogglingly ridiculous is that the pictures shared on Snapchat disappear after 10 seconds. Alright (you may say) this (ostensibly) means that the really stupid picture you took of yourself after eleventy-nine tequilas, and then sent to all of your contact list, including (d’oh) your boss, disappears. Phew. What a relief. Not like the very same picture that you posted to Facebook. Ooops.

But. And here’s the whole privacy schtick, in both its forms. Because if the pictures (ostensibly) disappear after 10 seconds, what’s to stop you posting stuff that even you, in your addled state, might have considered a bit de trop before? Yes, Snapchat is fuelling the rise of the ‘selfie’. (And, blog snorkellers mine, if you don’t know what a selfie is, then – well – google it. Stop! Not if you’re at work.) Apparently, 54% of Snapchat users in the UK have received an ‘inappropriate picture’ – and the mind literally boils over. More privacy being given away – in the simple belief that whatever you’ve shared won’t be  available after 10 seconds has passed.

Ah. Yes. Sorry. In a message to users, the company responded “If you’ve ever tried to recover lost data after accidentally deleting a drive, or maybe watched an episode of CSI, you might know that with the right forensic tools, it’s sometimes possible to retrieve data after it has been deleted.” Which means – and I’ll spell it out for the hard of thinking – that your image doesn’t disappear after 10 seconds. Not completely. No, it’s still retrievable from a server somewhere near Palo Alto.

So, thanks to Snapchat, we have ordinary people in the grip of internet Tourette’s sharing far more stuff that they may have done previously, even though they’re being told, quite clearly, by the purveyor of the medium, that the stuff they’re sharing, while it (ostensibly) disappears from their (and their contact’s) devices after 10 seconds, is actually being stored somewhere. And the medium – in this case Snapchat – is saying that it would take a CSI investigation to find it, even though some of it may be so out of the park that it should, actually, be sent directly to Interpol/the FBI.

Do you know, I was right to suggest turning off the internet. Until the human race, as a whole, is mature enough to deal with it.

When Two Become One – Social Media and the Abuse of Language

Boom, snorkellers mine! Or is it ‘boosh’? Recently I had my faith in ‘boom’ as the young person’s emphatic of choice somewhat shaken when the young person I use as my ‘young person barometer’ opted for the latter. But it is possible that said young person was still coated in fall-out from the Jack Black oeuvre ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, where Mr Black does, in fact, use ‘boosh’ to denote triumph and satisfaction. Which then begs the question, did he use ‘boosh’ because he is American? Or because it was a family movie? Or both?  I will admit to worrying slightly about ‘boom’, as I suspect it has overtones of ‘gangsta’. But, and indeed, hey – that’s the way I roll.

Which digression leads us nicely into the theme of today’s meander down language lane. Oh yes, syntaxmen, grammarians and semanticleers, another excursion into the verbiage. So, those of you who’ve been here before (wind whistles round an empty, cavernous space and a small, adolescent tumbleweed rolls gently into the dusty distance) will know that one of my greatest bugbears is the abuse of language – whether that’s language used wrongly, or words that are made up, slapdash errors or mistakes that have become so commonplace that they are now practically accepted as part of the language they undermine. I refer, of course, to apostrophe’s.

The other thing that makes me seethe, of course, is social media. Now – and before anyone starts – I am not a social media denier. How can anyone be a social media denier? I am someone who does not believe that social media is the be-all and end-all. I see no reason for there to be a social media industry. I have no time for social media gurus. I do not believe that social media add any real value whatsoever, and I remain convinced that they are practically useless in any sort of commercial (sales and marketing) environment. At best another set of media for communications purposes, at worst, dangerous, misguided and damaging (for a brand or organisation, anyway). Shallow, one-dimensional and self-obsessed – that’s social.

So imagine my joy when I came across this: “We have learned through experience tweeple don’t like brands jumping in if they have chosen not to include them. It could cause a black lash especially if they are out spoken. It is strange but they don’t like being watched even though
it’s public forum.

Do the users of Twitter know they’re being called ‘tweeple’? Do they call themselves ‘tweeple’? Are the Tweeple the inhabitants of Tweetville? If there are many Tweeple, are there individual Twersons? Does anyone have any idea how much this makes social media seem like a figment of the imagination of Dr Seuss and one that makes even less sense than a portion of green eggs and ham? What, social medians, are you thinking of?

I am a guardian of corporate reputation by profession. Something I’ve learnt is that, if you want to be taken seriously, you don’t give yourself a ridiculous name. It takes a long time and a lot of effort before you can start being jokey with your brand, and even then, the jokes have got to be clever and make people think. Or, of course, you can start out with a ‘whacky’ personality (Innocent Drinks) but even then it needs to be thought through to the nth degree. In this case, you’ve got a case of the whackies without any longevity or substance. And it is value and reputation-destructive.

But, hey (again), go with the flow. In the spirit of entente cordiale, here are a few generic nouns I’ve come up with for the users of other social media. These are free and anyone can use them without even thanking me. (Although it would be nice, obviously.)

Faceboks. Tumbleers. Foursquats. Instagrates. Youtubigrips. Pinteresticles.

And, of course, it’s not Tweeple.

It’s Twats.

Not just me, then………

Good morning, dear blog snorkellers all, and welcome to the bloggy equivalent of diving for meal stars in a tank full of spiders and cockroaches but, thankfully, without Ant and Dec. For those of the faithful that haven’t got a clue what just went down there, it’s a knowing and thus quite irritating reference to the current expression of the Great British zeitgeist, ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’ only, of course, they’re not and everyone (secretly) wants them to stay there. Especially Nadine Dorries and Helen Flanagan, two people without whom I am absolutely certain the world would continue on its merry way, not in the least bit troubled by their absence.

So, you must be whispering amongst yourselves, ‘why has he called us here’ – on a day like today, as we barrel headlong into a gripping British winter. Well, since you ask, it’s for reasons social mediaeval, trotters mine and something that you may be interested in persuing yourselves. It is this – see – an article by one Charlie Brooker, reproduced here by linkery to t’Guardian newspaper of this parish, without so much  as a ‘by its leave’ or, indeed, permish from Brooker himself. I do hope he’s not overly bothered and decides that it’s a) too much faff and b) uneconomical to get all McAlpine on my ass. As the Mercans might say if they knew who McAlpine is and were as able to bend the English language to their will as I am.

I’m in agreement with this train of thought because it suits me to be so. Anyone who knows me will know I’m not a great fan of t’social, and this article posits that “Like the wheel, social media is another invention that is starting to resemble more of a millstone than a breakthrough.” It also suggests a few simple rules to solve a problem like the internet. Unlikely, you may say. P*ssing in the wind, you may say. Important, I say, and eminently necessary as we spiral headlong into a digital despond where, OMG, everyone is LOL, or worse, ROFL, or even, at the extremes of society, RAOTFLMFAO.

I think it’s code for ‘I’m a Luddite, Get Me Out Of Here!’ And I’m waiting for my request to be granted.

Some More Thoughtful Social Media Commentary

You know me, not much of a socio-mediavelist on the whole – but, still, I bet you thought I’d gone a bit Southern (for my friends from the United States and America, ‘southern’ in this context means ‘effeminate’, not ‘toothless, hairy, armed and smelling of bourbon’) (and for my UK fans, yes, I am a southerner, so it is perfectly alright for me to use the word ‘southern’, as it is not offensive. In the same way I could use the word ‘gay’, if I wanted to) (which would be offensive) when I stopped ranting about t’social and how it represents a direct road to hell for civilsation as we know it.

Anyway, rumours of my descent into southernness have been greatly exaggerated, as demonstrated by this article from that stalwart bulwark of editorial honesty (on matters communication), Communicate Magazine. I cannot tell you how much I echo the sentiments in this article – not all of them, obviously, there is some very Southern thinking contained within – and how I am in complete agreement with the school of thought that says social media are completely irrelevant. (OK, that’s not EXACTLY what it says, but near enough as makes no difference. To my mind.)

I also admire the (again, to my mind) extremely clever way that one of the authors – the one in the right, obviously, the one on the side of truth and justice – has designated social media ‘SM’, which, of course, is simply shorthand for a very Southern practice indeed.

Yes, I am wholly in favour of one half of this article.

The one that I wrote, clearly.

 

Social networking ‘dehumanising’ – who knew?

I’m a little bit cross today, gentle blog trotters, and – although it’s unlike me to burden you with my problems – I’m going to tell you why.

First off, you should know that I employ the services of an accountant, for the simple reason that I am not an accountant myself, and I cannot be doing with all this numbery business. What I didn’t cop on to was that, in the eyes of the law (quis aliem facit, facit per se), if you employ an accountant to do your numbers, you are effectively doing them yourself. It’s a great gig (for accountants), as – in the (obviously) highly improbable scenario that they should f*ck it all up – they are not responsible. Nope. You are. Because – get this – you should have checked their work. Which, to my mind, kinda implies that everyone should be qualified as an accountant. Either that, or accountancy is such a piece of piss that anyone can do it, in which case, why are we paying the horrible f*ckers so much money? Eh?

Anyway, long story short, yadayada, my accountant f*cked up, I got hit with a £700 penalty by the revenue. Accountant ‘fesses up. Accountant agrees that I am in no way to blame and says that accountant will pay the 700 notes. Payment day was last week. Accountant now refusing to take my calls. Hence I am cross. And poor.

Anyway, today’s post is about a piece in the FT this morning, which I cannot post a link to because I do not wish to register with the paper and therefore cannot view its content. And no, Mr FT, I’m not going to buy a copy of the paper either, so, in both ways, you lose. That’s the thing about the internet, d’you see, you can’t eat it. What I mean is, that you can’t have it and eat it. It’s free. So you can’t post your content and then expect people to pay for it, either on-line or in the crinkly newsprint. No. What they’ll do is ignore you.

Anyway, in the FT. The headline ‘Sean Parker Unveils Facebook Video Site’. Apparentky he’s launching some  video chat site to counter the ‘dehumanisation’ of social networking. Sean Parker is the President of Facebook (no, all you foursquareys, that’s not like being the Mayor of the Copacabana Club in Leighton Buzzard), which, given that, with its many hundreds of millions of slaves users, the ‘book is the (I think) third largest nation by population on earth, is somehow quite appropriate. Anyway, Seanio has obviously come quite late to the party and realised that spending half your life in front of a computer or glued to the tiny, twinkling screen of your handheld of choice, is – or could be – quite isolating of the human condition, rendering one – yes – almost dehuman.

Anyway, he seems to think that videochat will solve it. Poor deluded soul. I also hear he’s thinking of opening a chain of ‘meeting places’ – where the dehumans can go and interact in real time. Places with smells and sounds and warmth and three dimensions. And, probably, coffee. I came up with a name, which they’re free to use, if they like. Try this. (Ready?) “Facebucks”.

See what I did? It sounds a bit like ‘Facebook’ and a bit like ‘Starbucks’, but, in melding the two, you’ve got the unwritten promise that you too, yes, you, the retail investor, can make some easy money out of social networks…er….when they…mmm…..d’you know….when they…er…like….float?

On second thoughts, how about Faceb*ll*cks?

 

The Dark Net – Well, How Terribly Cyberpunk Of You

Frankly, I am sometimes left rooted to the spot with my mouth hanging open at how much you couldn’t really make things up if you tried. (I’m sorry if, at first sight, this last sentence doesn’t seem to make sense. Read it again slowly.)

In my free time, when I’m not saving whales, teaching orphaned ravens to fly underwater, or re-charging battery hens, I sometimes dip into a book, and the genre of book that I enjoy a good dip into is science fiction, particularly post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk science fiction. Now, it might just be metal-tinted glasses, but it’s my vivid impression that many works of cyberpunk (particularly at the lower-rent end of the genre spectrum) contain a key common theme and that’s virtual worlds, existing on t’internet. Almost all of them have something recognisably hacker-like and most have the odd villain or two, making use of closed sections of the information superhighway upon which to perform the digital handbrake turns of mayhem. So far, so made up.

(If, at this point in time, you find your interest piqued by this sort of – can I? Should I? Call it literature? Well, you might like to have a jolly good dip into this which is, joking aside, genuinely brilliant and has that bit of virtual-worlds-(in this case virtual hells – plural, yes)-hidden-away schtick goin’ on. It’s not really cyberpunk, though. For that, you’ll need this.)

Anyway, now we come to the bit where I’m frozen to the spot with my mouth hanging open. Dearest Blog Trotters – check this out.

I’ll let the headline speak for itself – ‘users build bridge to Dark Net’. If you want to know more about it, then you’ll have to read the story – it involves something called TOR, which is apparently a ‘secret net’. Yes, people, a secret net, existing somewhere in, or behind, or in parallel with, the one we all know about. It’s a Dark Net – it’s hidden and it exists so that internetters can hide their existence and what they are doing. It is the stuff that cyberpunk is made of and – here’s the thing – it is not made up. It exists. People are using it and – more to the point – others are signing up to it, providing it with more bandwidth and, yes, protecting it.

You’ll probably notice that I got a bit hysterical during that last sentence, and this will give you a clue to where I’m coming from on this issue. Which is from the State of No Way, No How. I make no secret of my disdain for social media – mostly the empty, ego-fuelled meanderings of millions of people who can’t bear the silence in their own heads – and I’ve also made it clear that I do not think it to be harmless (that it’s harmful and has caused harm is, actually, beyond doubt). From a corporate and business perspective, it is not a sales or marketing tool, it has limited use as an active communications tool and its best function is as a reactive message delivery channel when something has gone wrong. Ironically, these days, when something corporate goes wrong, it’s most likely caused by, or spread by, social media in any case.

But a big issue is anonymity. I believe in the right to be anonymous and the right to privacy – but if you’re foolish enough to post your life on Facebook, then that’s your anonymity gone and don’t come crying to me. Sadly, privacy and anonymity on the net doesn’t just protect fine upstanding citizens like you and me – it also protects the evil bastard trolls who pick on people, who post inappropriate content, who revel in their internet Tourette’s and who  contribute to the well-publicised suicides.

Previously, on this blog, I posted about regulating the internet and how it was far too late. I suggested a way of doing it – the GAP (Global Authentication Portal) – and suggested that the nerds of the world would upheave at the mere suggestion of such a thing.

This was before I became aware of the Dark Net. Surely I am not the only person who thinks that this is just a step too far – yes, I understand that an untraceable net protects freedom of speech in oppressive regimes and allows citizen journalism to raise its voice against institutional wrongs – but I’m afraid I’d sacrifice these liberties to ensure that criminals, thieves and global scumbags can be brought to justice.

This is one type of anonymity that I do not believe to be a human right. As I’ve said – if you’re putting your stuff on the net – you’re not anonymous. Don’t complain – there’s only (relatively speaking) a few bad apples, but the barrel is rotten.