The more things change, the more they stay the same. This weekend we saw Michael Arrington raise a ruckus due to the “mob behavior” on FriendFeed. He states that FriendFeed is an example of what is wrong on the internet because all of the comments are together and that gives rise to a mob quicker. Yep, FriendFeed is the problem. I have a lot of respect for what Mr. Arrington has done, but does he bother to read comments on TechCrunch anymore? If anyone writes anything even remotely controversial, blog comments become interesting at best but typically devolve into a bunch of name calling.
This is the internet and the way it works. Get used to it.
The problem with today’s “Groundswell” is it now targets the personal brand as well as the corporation. We see that in Arrington’s situation, as well as several others that have recently been targeted. It could have happened on Twitter. It could have happened on Youtube, or Digg, or anywhere else. The fact is when someone the majority likes is targeted, or the service the majority likes is targeted, or has the appearance of being attacked, the mob goes in defense mode, attacking back.
Personal feelings become more involved now because we are more directly involved. If we go back a few years, the only place people could comment about a blog post was on the blog itself. Now, there is Digg, Twitter, FriendFeed and a whole lot more. Now there are several places where the mob can form, but some places it may be more likely than others.
Steven Hodson mentions part of the reason that we see this behavior.
As with human nature, and anything we touch, there is always a negative side, the dirty side of the story that no-one likes to talk about or admit to. The same applies to Social Media and we see it rear its ugly with every case of Internet flash mobs of hate and recrimination.
You can see human nature pushing through on almost every social media site. If you get something controversial on Digg, I bet that the comments will be just as bad as those Arrington mentioned from FriendFeed, maybe even worse. The problem that arises on some sites is that all of the comments are together, as in Digg and FriendFeed. Sites like Twitter do not have as much of a problem because they have comments strewn throughout a stream. The big difference is that when the comments are centralized, a conversation or argument ensues. On Twitter, there may be a few @replies, but it is much harder to maintain a conversation.
So, why blame FriendFeed specifically? Why not blame Digg, the father of all things comment related? Obviously, you really can’t blame the platform, because they did not make the comments. They can apologize for being an enabler, but that is as far as it goes. If you blame the people, things become more difficult. This is the internet where anonymity rules, so you don’t always know who you are dealing with.
I would say let’s just all act like adults and treat each other with respect, but I know that will not happen overall. You can choose what conversations you get involved in. If you see a thread that talks about you in a bad way, be the bigger person and do not join the fight. If you have a platform as popular as TechCrunch, I would believe that there is more power in a blog post than a single thread on FriendFeed. Will you get nasty comments on the blog? Yes, but you do not need to respond to them either.
So, how do we get around this problem? Steven Hodson thinks we need a John Lennon for social media. Honestly, I think we have to accept it for what it is. This is the internet. You can choose to ignore some of the hate and vitriol, or you can be overcome by it.