Last week the city of Boston endured a horrific bombing during the Boston City Marathon. The attack has left three people dead and hundreds more injured. As usual, I’m not going to discuss my opinions of the event beyond that sentence; instead, I want to look at the discussions on social media.
Subsequently, the day after, my news feeds were populated with people, offering their sympathies, thoughts and prayers to those in Boston.
However at roughly midday, the tide brought in the first round of backlash from others. The popular opinion was that by offering tweets and statuses of sympathy to those impacted by the Boston bombings, people were turning a blind eye to similar incidents that occur in high conflict areas, such as the Middle East.
Those that these new remarks denigrated were quick to issue strongly worded rights of reply, and by 2pm EST the mud-slinging fights were raging in earnest.
The self-promotion of social conscience on the Internet is a scarily powerful thing; it at once offers incredible momentum (see my article on Kony 2012) and much controversy. When I say self-promotion, I’m not talking about boasting, I’m talking about broadcasting. When we post, we publish. When we publish, we are communicating on mass. When it boils down to it, social media is just as much about curating our identity as it is about connecting with others. Just as how we connect with others, is in itself part of building and broadcasting a curated identity.
For those people who understand how social media works: If we post on Facebook about Kony 2012, we do so because we want to be seen posting about Kony 2012, when we reply to their post, telling them that Kony 2012 is a sham, it is again because we want to broadcast what we believe. It may not be our primary motive, but we are, to some degree, aware of what we’re doing.
This is not a negative thing. If wanting to appear socially conscious prompts legitimate socially conscious action then hip-hip hooray. Additionally, just because someone is broadcasting their social conscience, it doesn’t make their messages any less genuine.
What I find most interesting is how this concept escalates during these issues of conflict. The exchange of social conscious messages rapidly collide and escalate seemingly into contests of conscience-driven one-upmanship. This is rarely the case within face-to-face communication.
When we broadcast our messages in a one-on-one context our messages are met with acknowledgement and discussion, however the moment we broadcast to a crowd, social media or otherwise, our messaging and driving motives are free to be questioned by all.
Different etiquette applies when we address crowds of people. This etiquette is just as present in social media as it is in real life, however it is easy to forget when you can’t see the faces of thousands looking at you.