Social Media: A Choose Your Own Adventure Story

When I was a kid, I LOVED Choose Your Own Adventure books. I would read to a certain page, then I’d get to make a choice. “If you go left on the road, turn to page 53. If you go right, turn to page 75.” I’d choose, then flip to the page and continue the adventure. Each time through was a totally different experience.

The online world is a lot like that. These days, we don’t have the media telling us what to watch (I grew up in a town with one – count them, ONE – TV channel – we were TOLD what to watch, or we turned off the TV). These days, we get to choose from hundreds of television channels, virtually unlimited amounts of audio content thanks to satellite radio and podcasts, and 24/7 streams of news, information and chatter on social networks. It’s a whole new world, and one that people are struggling hard to manage and interpret.

I find the social media world to be a strange one when tragedy strikes. With the horrific events that have taken place this week in Boston, and now Texas, we’ve seen and heard more about the experiences on a moment-by-moment basis than ever possible before. This means that the terrain is ripe for misinformation and speculation, as we’ve seen from a few major media outlets and countless Twitterati. However, it’s also provided a space where people can come together and grieve, help each other and try to make sense of the senseless.

One of the things I’ve seen that’s been decidedly unhelpful in all of this are the folks who decide to give unsolicited advice to those who may or may not be “acting insensitively or inappropriately” in light of tragic events. In particular, there have been a barrage of posts on Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs commanding people to stop auto-tweeting or posting links to content that is either promotional in nature or could be perceived as self serving while a tragic event is unfolding. I’m quite certain that most of the people touting this advice are not doing so with ulterior motives and are well-intentioned in their effort to “help” those who may not be so “in the know” when it comes to online etiquette.

However, there are a number of things that people have not considered here. First and foremost was what Chris mentioned the other day. If we stop all online chatter when tragedy strikes close to home, why do we not do it when it strikes in other countries? There was a devastating earthquake in Iran the other day. Countless people in the Middle East were killed by car bombs. A young girl committed suicide because she was gang raped and bullied. Did the stream stop for those events? Not that I saw.

The point is, where do we draw the line? Of course, if someone is clearly capitalizing on a tragedy for their own self-promotional purposes, that’s inappropriate. But tweeting about your church bake sale this weekend, or promoting a 50% off discount on your training course? As tragic as things are in the whole world, those parts of life do not stop. Yes, I pulled some tweets when the tragedy happened in Boston, but I did it out of respect for my friends who live in the area. I was living the crisis with them, sending them prayers and words of encouragement. I, personally, did not feel it was right for me to be focusing on other things at that moment. But that’s just me. What about people on the other side of the world who may not have any connection to the people or events happening in a certain city? They can still feel the pain and suffering, and send their thoughts, and many people did. But do we have any right to criticize them for continuing on with their lives?

This morning I woke up to news that a horrific explosion has taken place at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. This news is once again tragic, and it appears that several people have died and been seriously injured. But this event occurred late last evening, as many people had already signed off for the night and probably scheduled posts for overnight and into the morning. This morning, my Twitter stream is rife with auto-tweets and the usual chatter of a typical Thursday morning in my time zone. Nobody has stopped, because the timing was different.

Tragedy happens in our world every single day. It makes me sad, it makes me angry, and it makes me feel extremely helpless. But for us to insist that the entire network bear the weight of our individual pain is a lot to ask of others, especially people we don’t even know. Social media IS a choose your own adventure novel. You get to choose who to follow, unfollow, and block. Every day I add and remove people from my stream based on the kind of experience I, personally, want to have. If someone does something I feel is inappropriate, I remove them. I don’t call them out. I don’t bitch and whine to my friends in a secret Facebook Group. I remove them, and I never have to see them again if I don’t want to.

We all get to choose how we are going to act and interact in this space. When it comes to etiquette, common sense must prevail. If you wouldn’t do it to someone’s face, don’t do it online. It’s really that simple.

Choose your own adventure. Leave the others behind. Share, love, be kind, and think twice before you criticize. We are all in this life together, so let’s start acting like it, okay?

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  • April 20, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    We talked about this, but frankly, it’s just obnoxious. I think we have a real issue that extends beyond the moment.

    On the micro matter, I refuse to yield to a terrorist, and interrupt normal business activity.

  • […] Still once you turned off the self-appointed bosses, it was a good conversation about acceptable norms with tweeting during crisis. Social media has and always will be about conversations in spite of automation, corporate content marketing, and yes, supposed experts who take authoritative opining too seriously. […]

  • April 25, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Hey there Sue,

    The interesting thing about people is we all have different views on what’s right and wrong; what’s ethical and what’s not; what to do and what not to do.

    With regards the topic being discussed here (Guy Kawasaki’s response to a suggestion of auto-tweet pausing), that smacked of arrogance and belittling. Suggesting someone isn’t of value because of follower count wasn’t his best moment.

    Geoff has written about it and offered his point of view; the “secret Facebook group” referenced here had multiple viewpoints that weren’t all “bitching and moaning” (just to clarify instead of getting one person’s viewpoint on this); and there have been equal amounts of support and criticism.

    The point is, like you say, it’s a choice. The ironic part about posts that criticize criticism is that they’re also guilty of the very thing they’re unfollowing people for.

    Life would be pretty boring if we “all just got along”. I’d rather have honest viewpoints with the option of being discussed versus silent acceptance of something that goes against your world and people view.


    • April 30, 2013 at 6:05 am

      Ironically, to get even more meta, the only people who severely criticized that post were members of that secret group. Whether you choose to see the behavior or not, your group tends to have members who often take people to task rather than the actual moment or act. They tend to be the only people who have a problem with civility posts in general. And as the person that started that group, seeing what came out of it makes my stomach roil everytime it happens.

      It’s not about “all getting along.” Or meta civility. It’s about learning to levy points without taking hostages.

      Like you I choose my own adventure. For me, that means not investing time in or feeding bad energy.

      • April 30, 2013 at 6:39 am

        Looking at the post, three members of the group commented. None of them “severely criticized”; one asked a question about the post doing the same thing. One comment was disallowed because of your “relationship” with the person in question.

        Funnily enough, within the group, several people praised the post and appreciated you writing it.

        From something that was born out of frustration and was a very critical place in its early days, it’s moved onto being an amazing support community for friends in need (there’s a financial “kitty” for those going through had times); it’s a place where people can ask advice about their jobs, future career, etc; and it’s a place where there’s as much questioning of anyone raising a point about “civility posts in general” than there is of the group mentality of mob justice, for want of a better description.

        Simply put, it’s a far different beast from its origins, and better for it.

        There will always be people who have opinions they wish to share, but the few have never represented the whole, online or off.

      • April 30, 2013 at 7:35 am

        That’s awesome, and I hear that all the time. Then there’s what I see online. The two pictures don’t match up. For the record, their were four negative comments so majority wins as far as sourcing goes.

        And the comment that was disallowed because the commenter stated that people who don’t like differing opinions should leave the Internet altogether, specifically “keep out of the social sector all together.” Bullying on a civility post to defend the ability to have a differing opinion, yeah, and I stand by tossing this comment and personality off my blog. But, per my post he is welcome to leave a more measured comment to the same vein, much like Mitch’s post last week on maybe new media is not for you.

        Here’s the thing, Danny. Groupthink and bullying doesn’t make points or win arguments. It hurts them, and actually devalues the point. When people repeatedly engage in this same behavior, they are dismissed.

        When I receive criticism from members of the group, I write it off to the punks being punks because of the frequency of the negativity I see publicly from members of your group. Frankly, sometimes I see negativity as validation. I did with the civility post last week. Fact. I considered the source.

        12 for 12 was one of the best vehicles for change I have seen on the Internet. Antagonizing comments are not.

        I look forward to seeing you in June, and you’re welcome for that, too. It and the webinar was something I felt should be reciprocated for the keynote last year. I hope your book allows people to deploy influence strategies for good. I really do.

        Best wishes.

      • April 30, 2013 at 7:36 am

        There not their.

  • […] Murphy wrote a post a couple of months ago called Choose Your Own Adventure. The post played off the children’s book series to discuss how social media really provides […]



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