Writing in Slate.com and the Washington Post, Judith Martin (Miss Manners, to you) addressed the dilemma of a woman who had attempted to engage various friends in genuine dialog on Facebook, but was surprised when her efforts were rebuffed as an intrusion.
Martin explained that the perplexed woman’s friends evidently “want to advertise their every move and feeling to a presumably rapt and admiring audience but do not want to participate in the give-and-take of actual friendship. The model for this, as Miss Manners is not the first to observe, is the celebrity. They ‘do’ publicity through trusted chroniclers -- in this case themselves -- but are huffy about their ‘privacy’ when they manage to attract someone's interest, which must be seldom enough.”
Armed with this insight, I took a look at my own Facebook page – the “status reports” of my friends, and the comments they’d received in response, including my own. And I noticed that the prevailing mode for responding even to such serious substantive postings as online articles (to say nothing of banalities like “John is waiting for the mulch delivery”) is not engagement but rather approval and validation. The “yays” and “you go girls” far outnumbered even halfway serious efforts at conversation, and genuine dialog – Socratic or otherwise – was virtually absent.
For organizational users that are edging into social media, this constitutes something of a dilemma. On the one hand, we’re frequently admonished (including elsewhere on this blog) that using social media for traditional “push” communications like press releases is a big no-no. But on the other hand, we’re learning that on Facebook and Twitter, substantive dialog may be unwelcome. Indeed, it tells you a great deal that one is said not to engage with people on Twitter, but rather to “follow” them.
The answer to this dilemma lies in drawing the distinction between Facebook and Twitter (and similar tools) which are highly personal, and other social and interactive media, such as blogs and comment boards, that invite debate.
And, of course, Facebook and Twitter are rapidly evolving. Facebook began as a closed site for students at only a handful of colleges. Now, only a few years later, Mr. Mumma is expressing his dismay at the grownups’ invasion. As Facebook grows ever more distant from its college origins, surely usage patterns and unwritten rules of etiquette will evolve accordingly.
Meanwhile, in navigating these shoals, we might take the wisdom not of Mr. Mumma’s oration but of his predecessors in “Ten Thousand Men of Harvard:” Illegitimum non carborundum.**
* I Facebook, Therefore I Am
** Don’t let the bastards grind you down