Putting aside the somewhat ridiculous notion that the weasel-words ‘social media’ have any but oxymoronic meanings, there’s nevertheless ongoing debate on at least Google Plus about ‘building community’.
In their best imitation of earnest and knowledgeable people, concerned with the social, most people who discuss these issues assume that there is an objective position to stake out on a topic that can’t question its own dubious premiss: that there is such a thing as social and community to be had in the mercenary, commercial structures built by social media companies.
What can be talked about are personal experiences with nominal efforts to ‘build’ and ‘manage’ online community.
So, in that spirit, let me borrow a cliché of slef-help literature, and propose ‘the seven kommunity killers’ on Google Plus: political correctness; circle-jerk crèches; anodyne vacuity; catholic orthodoxy; infantilism; the princess syndrome; and outright psychosis.
- Political correctness is most often exhibited by timid souls who don’t understand the difference between discussing an idea and subscribing to it, usually as a result of being bullied into this fickle cowardice by doctrinaire prosecutorial types who just can’t accept their own opinions are not immutable truths. Political correctness kills discussions and communities stone dead, even if the remaining zombies imitate being alive, after a fashion.
- Circle-jerk crèches, AKA mutual masturbation societies, AKA echo chambers are most usually like an organisational game of bullshit bingo in which the participants trot out all the usual catchphrases and clichés until the thread or community just withers with the tedium of their repetition.
- Anodyne vacuity is the infuriating tendency to resort to fortune cookie snatches of meaningless wisdom on every imaginable topic, probably to appear clever by quoting someone else, or just to be able to say ‘it wasn’t my idea’, thus avoiding any chance of having to explain or defend any position on any subject at all. This approach in a community is as engaging as a wet dishrag that hasn’t been rinsed.
- Catholic orthodoxy is the bland insistence that all middle of the road positions on every topic are not only safe, but probably for the best, even if the orthodoxy says some people should get away with murder, or blue is the new red. The perpetrators of this kind of stultifying community killer will invariably insists that it must be true if found in the Bible/Wikipedia/Fox News, and that critical analysis is a kind of Mexican Nachos dish. Since there is nothing so boring as having some lamebrain quote a source I could have looked up myself and dismissed in seconds, these types tend to go across well if they find the right circle-jerk community for themselves.
- Infantilism is displayed by those who have a krypto-psychotic desire to ascribe to even the most complex or obviously sinister circumstances the kind of simplistic explanations mostly found only in Walt Disney scripts. Such people cannot imagine any kind of reality unless it comes with a PG rating and parental controls, even while they vote to bomb women and children, or let their fellows starve and die from lack of access to food or medical care. Social networking should be open to children, even grown ones, but I find it hard to take them seriously, and I certainly don’t seek them out.
- The princess syndrome is pretty self-explanatory: spoilt brats of all ages whose response to any point of view that differs from their own is a hysterical temper tantrum. Their preferred mode is melodramatic overreaction, hypochondriac attention seeking, and maudlin self-pity. Such endearing souls. Nuff said.
- Outright psychosis might strike many people as rare and obvious to spot, but it’s not always that way. In the US and Europe between a quarter and a third of all adults are reported as suffering from some form of mental health problem. There is no reason to suppose the numbers are different online. So, one in every three or four people you encounter could be psychotic in the literal, clinical sense. That doesn’t need to be a problem, but it can be, particularly in relation to obsessive behaviours, like the zealotry evident in deliberate trolling, and the crusading against real or imagined trolling. This category also embraces all the ‘nice’ people wedded to one or another absolutist determinism, like secular and spiritual religions, and the Star Trek delusion of believing technology offers answers to all human concerns.
To depart from this pithy reductionism, I propose a simple set of principles already in common use, with a proven track record of making communities work: adults accept responsibility for their words and actions, mature and responsible adults never consign any topic to taboo status, and communities of interest work best along collegiate lines.
The failure of online communities is no different from the failure of direct communities. If Guelfs and Ghibellines, Crips and Bloods, Hutus and Tutsies, Catholics and Protestants, Christians and Muslims, right and left, start killing each other or attempting to dictate their opponents’ freedoms, they will kill their common ground doing it.
When collectives of the self-righteous start doing the same thing on social networks, they achieve the same outcomes, turning the potential vibrancy and richness of pluralism into the arid, sterile wasteland of robotic conformity, or even into abandoned ghost-town wastelands.
For my money the Google Plus concept of communities was a big mistake. Far from fostering community, it fosters anti-social segregationism or apartheid. The implementation imposes massive time commitments on individuals intending to keep pace with more than one or two communities, probably leading eventually to no time commitment at all.
Nor do I see how segregating people into communities has or will achieve the goal of pre-sorting the torrent of personal information attached to community participants, which is, after all, the commodity that Google trades in.
Moreover, I don’t regard walled-off estates with the security checkpoints of ‘rules’ and ‘moderators’ as communities; they are every bit as much prisons as they are secure, and the people inside those walls have already made a conscious decision to secede from anything that actually resembles the social, or anything recognisably communal rather than elitist.
That said, the Google community features might be useful for specific convocations or discussions, but not as sole substitutes for wider engagements, and never as a vehicle for amateur fascist censorship and experiments in social control methodologies.