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Communication in the Real World: Blog

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Monday
Jan062014

A PR Director's PR Disaster: A Lesson For Competent and Professional Social Media Usage

A PR Director's PR Disaster: A Lesson For Competent and Professional Social Media Usage

A PR director with InterActiveCorp, Justine Sacco, tweeted the following before taking off to South Africa: 

Obviously, such a comment draws on stereotypes of Africa and AIDS, and adding the "I'm white" part at the end brings up outdated tropes that position white, especially white heterosexuals, as immune to AIDS. Shouldn't a public relations professional know that what she says online can go viral in seconds? As a professional at a company that represents clients like OKCupid and UrbanSpoon know how to use competently her own social media? As a communication professional myself, I think the obvious answer to these questions is: yes!

Reliable Sources did a great segment on this called, "Trial By Social Media," in which they discuss how the internet exploded with reaction to Sacco's tweet, while she was presumably enjoying her long flight to Africa. By the time she landed, reporters had already gathered to question her about the tweet. Subsequently, she issued a public apology and lost her job. 

In my book, Communication in the Real World, I outline some guidlines for competent social media usage in my chapter titled, "New Media and Communication." What follows is an excerpt with advice that might have helped Ms. Sacco and may help us all. 

Competent Communication on Social Media

We all have a growing log of personal information stored on the Internet, and some of it is under our control and some of it isn’t. We also have increasingly diverse social networks that require us to be cognizant of the information we make available and how we present ourselves. While we can’t control all the information about ourselves online or the impressions people form, we can more competently engage with social media so that we are getting the most out of it in both personal and professional contexts.

A quick search on Google for “social media dos and don’ts” will yield around 100,000 results, which shows that there’s no shortage of advice about how to competently use social media.

One key piece of advice, relevant to the case of Justine Sacco is: Think before you post.

Think Before You Post

Software that enable people to take “screen shots” or download videos and tools that archive web pages can be used without our knowledge to create records of what you post. While it is still a good idea to go through your online content and “clean up” materials that may form unfavorable impressions, it is even a better idea to not put that information out there in the first place. Posting something about how you hate school or your job or a specific person may be done in the heat of the moment and forgotten, but a potential employer might find that information and form a negative impression even if it’s months or years old.

Sunday
Jun162013

Some Additions to the Daily Show's Advice for Hillary Clinton's Foray into Twitter

On June 13, 2013, The Daily Show's social media correspondent Jessica Williams offered some advice for Hillary Clinton as she made her first foray into the Twitterverse

The tips from the Daily Show were:

  • First of course, don’t tweet your junk Hillary! 
  • #2 Don’t be boring. 
  • #3 Seriously though, don’t tweet your junk. 
  • #4 Don’t be weird. 
  • #5 Highlight your superpowers but set limits.

Citing many recent examples of politicians' poor social media persona management skills, Williams backs up her advice in a humorous and instructive way. 

Even those of us who aren't as recognizable and powerful as the former First Lady and Secretary of State need to develop and employ social media communication competence. The following is a section from my book, Communication in the Real World, with five additional tips for social media competence. 

Using Social Media Competently

We all have a growing log of personal information stored on the Internet, and some of it is under our control and some of it isn’t. We also have increasingly diverse social networks that require us to be cognizant of the information we make available and how we present ourselves. While we can’t control all the information about ourselves online or the impressions people form, we can more competently engage with social media so that we are getting the most out of it in both personal and professional contexts.

A quick search on Google for “social media dos and don’ts” will yield around 100,000 results, which shows that there’s no shortage of advice about how to competently use social media. I’ll offer some of the most important dos and don’ts that I found that relate to communication.[i] Feel free to do your own research on specific areas of concern.

1. Be consistent.

Given that most people have multiple social media accounts, it’s important to have some degree of consistency. At least at the top level of your profile (the part that isn’t limited by privacy settings), include information that you don’t mind anyone seeing.

2. Know what’s out there.

Since the top level of many social media sites are visible in Google search results, you should monitor how these appear to others by regularly (about once a month) doing a Google search using various iterations of your name. Putting your name in quotation marks will help target your results. Make sure you’re logged out of all your accounts and then click on the various results to see what others can see.

3. Think before you post.

Software that enable people to take “screen shots” or download videos and tools that archive web pages can be used without our knowledge to create records of what you post. While it is still a good idea to go through your online content and “clean up” materials that may form unfavorable impressions, it is even a better idea to not put that information out there in the first place.

Posting something about how you hate school or your job or a specific person may be done in the heat of the moment and forgotten, but a potential employer might find that information and form a negative impression even if it’s months or years old.

4. Be familiar with privacy settings.

If you are trying to expand your social network, it may be counterproductive to put your Facebook or Twitter account on “lockdown,” but it is beneficial to know what levels of control you have and to take advantage of them. For example, I have a “Limited Profile” list on Facebook to which I assign new contacts or people with whom I am not very close. You can also create groups of contacts on various social media sites so that only certain people see certain information.

5. Be a gatekeeper for your network.

Do not blindly accept friend requests or followers that you do not know. Not only could these requests be sent from “bots” that might skim your personal info or monitor your activity; they could be from people that might make you look bad. Remember that people form impressions based on those with whom we are connected. You can always send a private message to someone asking how he or she knows you or do some research by Googling his or her name or username.

Questions to Consider: 

1. Identify information that you might want to limit for each of the following audiences: friends, family, and employers.

2. Google your name (remember to use multiple forms and to put them in quotation marks). Do the same with any usernames that are associated with your name (e.g., you can Google your Twitter handle or an e-mail address). What information came up? Were you surprised by anything?

3. What strategies can you use to help manage the impressions you form on social media?


[i] Alison Doyle, “Top 10 Social Media Dos and Don’ts,” About.com, accessed November 8, 2012, http://jobsearch.about.com/od/onlinecareernetworking/tp/socialmediajobsearch.htm.

Thursday
May162013

Using Social Media to Track Hate: Humbolt University, Twitter, and the Hate Map

This is the fourth article in a special week long series on "Social Media and Communication."

Social media is now being used in really interesting ways to study socio-demographics and even track the use of hate terms to create a composite of what areas are the "most hateful." A project at Humbolt State University has tracked the use of "hate terms" on Twitter and now has a public, interactive, map they call the "Geography of Hate." On this map, you can see the frequency of use of hate terms related to race, sexual orientation, and ability in any area in the United States. 

This is yet another way that social media intersects with an important communication issue - hate speech, which I discuss in the chapter on verbal communication in my book, Communication in the Real World

Defining Hate

Hate is a term that has many different meanings and can be used to communicate teasing, mild annoyance, or anger. The term hate, as it relates to hate speech, has a much more complex and serious meaning. Hate, in this context, refers to extreme negative beliefs and feelings toward a group or member of a group because of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or ability.[i]

The Difference Between Anger and Hate

We can get a better understanding of the intensity of hate by distinguishing it from anger, which is an emotion that we experience much more regularly.

  • First, anger is directed toward an individual, while hate is directed toward a social or cultural group.
  • Second, anger doesn’t prevent a person from having sympathy for the target of his or her anger, but hate erases sympathy for the target.
  • Third, anger is usually the result of personal insult or injury, but hate can exist and grow even with no direct interaction with the target. Fourth, anger isn’t an emotion that people typically find pleasure in, while hatred can create feelings of self-righteousness and superiority that lead to pleasure.
  • Last, anger is an emotion that usually dissipates as time passes, eventually going away, while hate can endure for much longer.[ii] 

In short, hate speech is a verbal manifestation of this intense emotional and mental state.

How is Hate Speech Used

Hate speech is usually used by people who have a polarized view of their own group (the in-group) and another group (the out-group). Hate speech is then used to intimidate people in the out-group and to motivate and influence members of the in-group. Hate speech often promotes hate-based violence and is also used to solidify in-group identification and attract new members.[iii]

Perpetrators of hate speech often engage in totalizing, which means they define a person or a group based on one quality or characteristic, ignoring all others. A Lebanese American may be the target of hate speech because the perpetrators reduce him to a Muslim—whether he actually is Muslim or not would be irrelevant. Grouping all Middle-Eastern or "Arab-looking" people together is a dehumanizing activity that is typical to hate speech.

Hate Speech and the First Amendment 

Incidents of hate speech and hate crimes have increased over the past fifteen years. Hate crimes, in particular, have gotten more attention due to the passage of more laws against hate crimes and the increased amount of tracking by various levels of law enforcement.

The Internet, and social media, have also made it easier for hate groups to organize and spread their hateful messages. As these changes have taken place over the past fifteen years, there has been much discussion about hate speech and its legal and constitutional implications. While hate crimes resulting in damage to a person or property are regularly prosecuted, it is sometimes argued that hate speech that doesn’t result in such damage is protected under the US Constitution’s First Amendment, which guarantees free speech.

In 2011, the Supreme Court found in the Snyder v. Phelps case that speech and actions of the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who regularly protest the funerals of American soldiers with signs reading things like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Fag Sin = 9/11,” were protected and not criminal. Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the decision, “We cannot react to [the Snyder family’s] pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”[iv]

Questions to Consider: 

1. Do you think the First Amendment of the Constitution, guaranteeing free speech to US citizens, should protect hate speech? Why or why not?

2. Visit the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Map”[v] (http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map) to see what hate groups they have identified in your state. Are you surprised by the number/nature of the groups listed in your state? Briefly describe a group that you didn’t know about and identify the target of their hate and the reasons they give for their hate speech.


[i] Michael Waltman and John Haas, The Communication of Hate (New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 2011), 33.

[ii] Michael Waltman and John Haas, The Communication of Hate (New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 2011), 33–34.

[iii] Michael Waltman and John Haas, The Communication of Hate (New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 2011), 3.

[iv] “Regulation of Fighting Words and Hate Speech,” Exploring Constitutional Conflicts, accessed June 7, 2012, http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/hatespeech.htm.

[v] “Hate Map,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed June 7, 2012, http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map.

Friday
Feb222013

Self-Disclosure, Impression Management, and Social Media in a Post Manti T'eo Scandal World

Kareem Copeland's recent post on a NFL blog starts with the line: "Be careful what you post on the Internet. You never know who's watching."

That's good advice that applies to all social media users whether you are a student, an employer, a potential employee, or a professional athlete. We use social media to engage in several key types of communication. For example, we use social media as a channel for self-disclosure - meaning that we share things about our lives on these public or semi-public forums. We also engage in impression management, meaning we try to strategically present aspects of ourselves in order to make particular impressions; for example, to be seen as competent, smart, cool, edgy, aloof, or attractive. We also use social media to initiate and maintain interpersonal relationships

Since most of use use social media for personal and professional reasons, we have to figure out how to engage in self-disclosure and impression management in appropriate and effective ways. 

Copeland's blog post, titled "Manti Te'o Case Spurs NFL Teams to Watch Social Media," notes that NFL recruiters are more closely looking at the social media of potential recruits. This type of social media data mining is not new, but it's happening more often.

You're probably all familiar with the Te'o hoax. Although all of the facts are not yet known, he was at the center of an internet hoax, in which he led a long term and long distance relationship with a woman who didn't actually exist.  During this same time period, a few players for the Washington Redskins found out that they had been tricked into communicating with a person who had created a fake online identity. The team went so far as to post messages in the locker room stating: "Stay away from @RedRidnH00d. Avoid her on Twitter. Avoid her on Instagram. Do not converse with this person on any social media platform. She is not who she claims to be."

Of course, some people aren't tricked into self-disclosing personal information or potentially harmful or embarrassing information online - instead, they do it on their own, perhaps without thinking about the consequences. 

Facebook and Twitter are undoubtedly dominating the world of online social networking, and the willingness of many users to self-disclose personal information ranging from moods to religious affiliation, relationship status, and personal contact information has led to an increase in privacy concerns. Facebook and Twitter offer convenient opportunities to stay in touch with friends, family, and coworkers, but are people using these social media responsibly?

Some argue that there are fundamental differences between today’s digital natives, whose private and public selves are intertwined through these technologies, and older generations (sometimes called digital immigrants). Even though some colleges are offering seminars on managing privacy online, we still hear stories of self-disclosure gone wrong, such as the football player from the University of Texas who was kicked off the team for posting racist comments about President Obama or the student who was kicked out of his private, Christian college after a picture of him dressed in drag surfaced on Facebook.

However, social media experts say these cases are rare and that most students are aware of who can see what they’re posting and the potential consequences. 

Questions to Consider: 

1. How do you manage your privacy and self-disclosures online?

2. Do you think it’s ethical for school officials or potential employers to make admission or hiring decisions based on what they can learn about you online? Why or why not?

3. How do you decide who to "friend" and who to ignore? 

 

Monday
Dec032012

The (Over)Reach of Social Media: Would you name your baby "Hashtag?" Or take a hashtag hostage?

Hashtags have been in the news a lot in the past week. The little symbol (#) is widely known, by people those who were born before today's digital natives, as the symbol for the "pound key" on a telephone or as an abbreviation for the word "number." But, the "hashtag" has taken hold of a generation of people who communicate via Tweets of 140 character or less.

Aside from helping us follow what's trending on Twitter or filter through the millions of Tweets to find things that interest us, the hashtag is now being used in new and controversial ways.

Last week, while it's unclear if this is real or a joke that's taken on a life of its own as a result of social media, bloggers and reporters at The Guardian, The Atlanta Constitution (Theresa Walsh Giarrusso, 11/28/12), and PC World (Damon Poeter, 11/28/12) have all reported the story. So the question is: Is this the first in a series of social media inspired baby names?  

The hastag has also made its way into "big P" politics as President Obama has tried to use the hashtag "#my2k" to bring attention to the estimated $2,000 a year tax increase that could befall many working and middle class Americans on January 1st, 2013 is congress and the president can't come to some agreement about how to face the "fiscal cliff."  Allen McDuffee's article for the Washington Post, titled, Fiscal Cliff: Obama's #My2K hijacked by Heritage Foundation discussed how the hashtag social media wars can work, when the players are motivated enough. In this case, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative organization, paid the money to "promote" the #my2K hashtage which meant that those who used the hashtag were presented with a link to a blog with content that runs counter to the President's message. And, so, the hashtag hostage wars begin!