Unsocial Media — or Why I Need to Stop Being Mr. Nice Guy!

Unsocial Media — or Why I Need to Stop Being Mr. Nice Guy!

Remember the school yard? Remember how whenever there was a fight, every child from miles around would crowd in a circle, joining in one massive spectator sport? No other playground activity could attract as much attention, except maybe streaking naked past the staff room window with the headmaster’s snapped-off car aerial in your hands.

In this new online world of social media, the fight rule also seems to apply. Controversy wins. Arguments attract spectators. Being a bastard can turn an average website into an essential read for thousands of people. After all, if it works for Gordon Ramsey and others offline, it can certainly work online.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Don’t panic – I’m not about to regale you with a litany of abuse or a tirade of F-words. I’m saving that up for those teenagers across the road, who think it’s a great wheeze to have a loud, late night party on a week night. What I am considering is the trend that seems to be emerging where social media eschews politeness and actually thrives on being unsocial every now and then.

I have been a member of Sphinn for 18 months at least. In that time, I have noticed that, by far, the most active threads are those that are thoroughly unsocial in nature. Case in point: the recent thread ‘Sphinn.com no longer belongs to the people‘. This is easily the most active thread for the last few days and seems to be sucking a lot of attention away from the other posts if the ‘Latest Comments’ sidebar is anything to go by. Why? Because it’s an argument. Everyone has to look, rubber-necking like cars passing a pile-up. Many will then become incensed by whichever argument offends them the most to add their own comments. It is a perpetual, spiralling social media nightmare.

Or is it?

In the Blue Corner…

Arguments and controversies and social media dust-ups attract links. Incensed bloggers will go away and write their responses on their websites, taking sides and adding their own vehemently defended opinions. Others will write more posts or comments in response to them. Each will link to each other and to the original sources in a flurry of finger-pointing, buck-passing, blame-tossing bile. Excellent! Masses of links, piles of traffic, huge exposure. The definition of a successful website.

This isn’t to pass judgment – far from it. I am just as guilty of shouting from the soapbox as anyone else. Last May, the original linkbait-gate arguments grid-locked Sphinn for weeks. Members on both sides, who had previously been behaving politely and with great friendship, aggressively fought their corners in defense or disgust with Lyndoman’s money.co.uk stunt. I was definitely at the centre of that storm, being one of the most outspoken critics, and certainly took some lumps for my trouble. Yet, my angry post on this blog, written in response, remains one of the most successful articles I’ve written. It won an award, sparked a massive number of responding blog posts, and attracted hundreds of links and tens of thousands of hits. Debate is valuable, dissent helpful and fence-sitting boring.

Ironically, the other most successful post is probably How to Win Arguments Online. I guess people love to get angry behind a keyboard, safe behind a screen.

Shock Blogger?

Do the success of arguments and anger in social media mean the gloves should come off? Should bloggers be less polite and more akin to the brimstone and hellfire rightwing radio personalities that turn controversy into a media ratings winner? Is it time to ditch the sunshine and lollipops of friendly social engagement and pick up the flick-knives and num-chucks of controversy and vigorous argument?

I hope not. The idea of bloggers becoming the modern equivalent of Rush Limbaugh or Alan Jones fills me with dread. As an attention-seeing tactic, it works brilliantly, but too much anger and bile can dilute objectiveness if overused. No one will take your opinion seriously if it is always tinged with foam-flecked mouthing mania. In other words – pick your battles wisely. Find something you really care about with a genuine understanding of the issues involved and use that to kick-start debate.

The Sphinn examples quoted above certainly involve a lot of hurt pride and strident defenses of truth, devolving as they often do into bouts of mud-slinging and accusations of insult and offence. But they also involve some serious analysis of the facts. Those angry blog posts that achieved the most notice contained more than just emotion and character assassination; they pushed the debate along. Politicians enjoy the TV camera attention they get when they start spitting venemous comebacks in parliament, but their ten minutes of fame would never get off the ground if there wasn’t a truly relevant point behind the outburst.

You Looking at Me?

Human nature dictates that being social means sometimes being unsocial. No one can be polite in every scenario – no one can avoid ever having a strong opinion worth shouting. It is just ironic that in social media – characterised as a force for camaraderie, politeness and sharing – it can become one of the most effective ways of drawing traffic and becoming successful.

So – do you want to pick a fight with me? Do you? DO YOU?!?


  1. I would totally agree with you here. So in that regard..
    Your mother! Let’s go! C’mon, your not so tough!
    Good post mate. 😉