Does Social Media Make us Better People?

We’re tracked everywhere these days, and not just by the growing number of CCTV cameras in our cities or the effortless traceability of cellphones.

Rather, I’m talking about the cameraphone user who automatically uploads her photos to Flickr or Twitpic, who with the tap of a screen can post a video to YouTube or stream a scene live on Qik. I’m talking about the immediacy and accessibility of Twitter messages that make private conversations public; tools that open up the very real possibility that every action you take, whether in a public space or in seemingly private emails and text messages, is being logged and possibly shared with thousands of people.

How does this change the way we act? Might it actually make us…nicer to one another?

Video Sharing

youtubephoneThe 1984 scenario is one we’re conditioned to fear: an all-powerful government judging our every move. And yet this new media landscape isn’t as favorable to the authorities as Orwell thought: numerous cases of alleged police brutality, most famously the “Don’t Tase Me Bro” incident in 2006, have been posted to YouTube, resulting in very public discussion of incidents that may otherwise have stayed under the public’s radar.

Or how about the total destruction, in 2006, of Michael Richards’ comedy career after a racist rant in a comedy club was posted to YouTube to public outrage? (Richards was previously best known as Seinfeld’s “Kramer”.)

Jumping forward to 2009, the Christian Bale incident, audio of which was spread widely on YouTube, shows that even a temporary loss of your cool is a permanent stain on your public profile (look, for instance, at the record of the incident on Bale’s Wikipedia page).

Photo Sharing

Did Miley Cyrus mock Asian people in a widely-shared photograph? The Organization of Chinese Americans thought so, and extracted an apology from the Hannah Montana star earlier this month.

Equally controversial in some sections of society (but less so in others): a cameraphone pic of Michael Phelps smoking a bong taken last November. It lost him numerous endorsement deals.

Trial-by-cameraphone is not a new phenomenon, however; nor is it limited to celebrities. In 2005, South Korea’s “Dog Poop Girl” endured public humiliation after her lack of manners was exposed in a series of cameraphone pics posted online. The tools available to capture and share content online have become far more sophisticated in recent years, but the mechanism remains the same.

Twitter and Micro-Messaging

twitterphoneTwitter, now entering the mainstream, still lacks the critical mass of celebrity names to create newsworthy emotional outbursts or moral deviations.

And yet the community has already instigated its own implicit rules of behavior. Take, for instance, the Astrospace incident, wherein a momentary loss of temper became a widely-discussed topic in that community: it appeared numerous times on Twitter’s “Trending Topics” (the most talked about issues at any given moment).

Rise of the Social Conscience?

These are unsatisfactory examples, perhaps – and I hope you’ll submit better ones in the comments. My question: is there a case to be made that social media – the fact that everyone is now a publisher and a distributor of content – might improve our behavior, both in public and private? Or is that wishful thinking?

Shout out to Pete Cashmore (Mashable)

0 responses to “Does Social Media Make us Better People?”

  1. Be careful — Big Brother is watching, more closely now than ever.

    The danger with these sites is that you don’t know where your image, or your words, are going to show up. No action or conversation can be assumed to be private anymore.

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