April 26, 2010
By Dorn Martell
It’s an epidemic.
From the howling of radio hosts and talking heads to the heckling of the President, our entertainment and dialogue has somehow degenerated into an ugly, counterproductive, screaming match. Reality TV like Big Brother, America’s Next Top Model, The Surreal Life, The Apprentice and others have become more of a showcase for the ugliness of personal conflict than they are about the original premise. I was so disappointed by the History Channel’s “Expedition Africa”, a reality show tracing Stanley’s route across the Congo. Instead of a show about history, African culture and the legacy of Stanley and Livingstone, it became a show that should have been re-named “Everyone hates Pasquale” (the bush guide) because all it showed was people arguing about nothing. This mentality has transformed our political system into a self-destructive hate-fest. It has mutated personal communications into a “cage grudge match” and has transformed a great deal of social media into a school yard argument.
Follow threads on YouTube, FaceBook and even LinkedIn and you will find that some of the most popular threads are nothing more than an on-line argument. As companies look for the holy grail of ad platforms and get heavier into social media, they will find there is a huge risk when you ask “What do you guys think of our new pizza?” Inevitably someone will post “I think your pizza sucks, loser.” Try to comment about a band, a sports team, a work of art or anything on healthcare, guns, the environment, religion or gay rights and see what kind of immature and inappropriate responses you will get.
As we strive to create a dialogue with our customers we must be aware that the internet is a lot like a bar. Some people can handle the freedom and conduct themselves properly while others are there to pick fights, hit on girls and make asses of themselves. That’s why bars have bouncers. Is this the answer in social media? Will every discussion require a moderator who is filtering content in real time? And at that point, what will be the value of an “open forum”? Do we need bouncers on the floor of the Senate to keep elected officials from throwing chairs and chanting “Jerry, Jerry”? Polls show that Americans are getting quite fed up with this tone. Many people have opted-out of social media because it was getting “creepy”. And talk about creepy I have one word ChatRoulette.
Will social media be the greatest source of dialogue in history or will it be the ultimate forum for bullies and perverts? I guess it is what we allow it to be and our programming, politics and personal interactions will be governed by what we opt-in to or out of.