Remember when Oprah Winfrey was considered the most influential woman in the world? Oprah had more unique viewers than any other show ...

The Social Anthropologist


Remember when Oprah Winfrey was considered the most influential woman in the world?

Oprah had more unique viewers than any other show on television – 20 million apparently. What Oprah said was considered gospel. 

If you wanted a product sold, if you wanted an opinion swayed – Oprah was your woman. I’m sure she is still very influential. Here's the thing...

Justin Bieber has over 21 million followers on twitter. 
Barak Obama has just over 15 million. 
The Dalai Lama has just less than 5 million.

The average tweeter has just 250 followers. So, we might be forgiven thinking that our tweets aren’t very influential. Or are they?

Your thoughts, no matter how few followers, blog views or friends online are out there. Mass opinion has never been so easy to gauge and to access. I would wager, we are all more influential than we might think. So how often do we all think before we type? Sometimes, hiding behind a screen or a smartphone means it’s too easy to type before thinking of the effect it will have.

I am interested in how social media is changing the way we connect and interact, and I am interested in how we are starting to define codes of conduct and self-regulate ourselves in these spaces, six years on or so.
Why are we all so happy divulging our innermost thoughts and opinions without a filter? Recent events have demonstrated a recent move towards self-regulation within social channels. We’re still all working out what is, and what isn’t socially acceptable online. And with this new channel of communication, comes new etiquette and new rules – many of which, we have yet to define.

Perhaps you saw the Grace Dent vs PR employee twitter fiasco?. When Mufadal, an employee of a PR agency that represented Dent, tweeted his very honest and derogatory view of Dent she very publically Lord Sugared his derriere quicker than he could add a “all views are my own” to his bio. His tweet, in my opinion, is the kind of thing we all think in our heads, and say to a friend over a beer, but not something you say if the celeb/ person was standing next to you – which, in the world of twitter, they are.

However, not an hour after the dreaded tweet was sent by Mufadal, and barely before Team Dent had finished bashing the poor PR employee and voicing their support for Dent did the (what I like to call) “Otherwise army” get involved. Many directly berating Dent because she herself didn’t have a “picture perfect” twitter feed and often tweeted about fellow celebs, politicians etc in a less than picture perfect light.

Amy Winehouse vs. Nordic Gunman – how we were berated and reprimanded for posting our tributes when there was a gunman committing unspeakable atrocities on an island? In many ways, quite right too. No one denies how awful the Nordic gunman situation was, but on this day, it was not OK to also openly share your feelings about anything else. The masses had decided that support for Norway was the only thing that should be discussed in social. On any other day, it would have been OK to be sad about a brilliant artist dying tragically, before her time.

Then there’s KONY2012  – if you saw the video and shared it before those who had researched further , you were socially and publically reprimanded for being oh-so-ignorant. Whatever you think about KONY2012, you cannot deny that it was an incredible piece of awareness generating activity that used social media better than any consumer brand I’ve seen.

On a more granular level, how many “My Guide to Twittiquette or “How to use Facebook Properly” blog posts have you seen? Yes, everyone has a strongly worded opinion on what we should and shouldn’t be using social media for.

I’m not sure who is right and who is wrong.  Should we approach social media with a “each to his own” or “it’s what you make it” attitude or should we be defining guidelines for how people communicate and interact in these spaces? We regulate social behaviour offline to an extent, don’t we? Who is responsible for policing social?

How about the Chad Evans case? I have seen many blog posts naming and shaming those on twitter who publically supported Evans.  People felt truly outraged that rape culture was alive and well, being demonstrated on twitter by many (She has a right to privacy – it’s against the LAW to name a rape victim. One tweeter said this:

“I’m going to tweet her twitter name – cause its only illegal to name RAPE VICTIMS. And she isn’t one.”

WOW. Really? How did we get so brazen and when did we all stop giving a damn about the person sitting next to us? Has social allowed us all to hide behind a computer or Smartphone screen and therefore allow us to open up more than we should?  Is it worth noting that these behaviours and attitudes will exist whether we are sharing them online or not?

Maybe. But these extreme opinions, either way, are now easily accessible. Not hidden behind closed doors or in hushed hallways. These opinions are there for everyone to see. Opinions that are open and accessible by the very young, the very na├»ve, those that are easily antagonised – is this right? Is this beneficial? The Guardian is right – comment is free and I applaud an open media and society where many can voice their opinions and have their voice (or typed thoughts) heard/ read. I’m doing it right now! But is it right that because we can, we do?
In the offline world, I often have an opinion on first meeting someone or experiencing something – and guess what, sometimes this opinion changes over a period of time. And by God am I glad that my initial opinion isn’t stored forever on a server somewhere, forever accessible and forever tagged to me. And, my opinions and my ability to formulate an argument or to construct my opinion have changed and matured somewhat over the years. I am very pleased that my boss doesn’t have access to the way I spoke or argued a point when I was 18, a fresher at an art university, with an idealistic, somewhat hippie approach to most of life. Will I regret this opinion I am sharing with you now in 20 years time? Maybe. But it isn’t stopping me sharing it, which is the point that interests me most.

Why are we all so happy to share? A recent Harvard university study aimed to understand why we are motivated to talk about ourselves so much. The researchers found that the brain regions associated with reward were strongly engaged when people were talking about themselves, and less engaged when they were talking about someone else. These areas of the brain are the same ones that are activated during sex.

Discussing this with a few friends, I discover that many regulate their own social sharing: “I ask myself what my Gran would think if she read this, and if she would in any way be offended or upset, I don’t post it.”. Others saying they keep their privacy tight on facebook – so no colleagues or long lost friends: “I deleted anyone who I hadn’t spoken to or seen in the last year because really, these people don’t need to know my most intimate thoughts and experiences – it’s not right.”. So we’re changing. We’re changing the way we use social media already in order to protect our own personal brand.

Others saying it is free reign when posting on twitter because they don’t use their own name, and they find a sense of freedom in this ability to say what they think. So we’re feeling oppressed in modern society and social has given us a much-needed place to release? But what impact is this level of accessible free speech having on society?

Of course this has a heap of implications for brands in social not least because true insight for any activity planned will come from truly understanding behaviours in these spaces…….but that is a whole new blog post…watch this space !

By Michaela MacIntyre (@mich_maci)

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