Sex, lies and social media

I listened to an interview with the writer Jon Ronson, who described one of the dangers of social media, and particularly Twitter , as akin to 'sleepwalking into a surveillance society'. He was referring to some of the high profile cases where ill advised tweets have led to trial by the mob. Here are some of my reflections on the issues, pitfalls and benefits of social media, for young and old alike.

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'A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother'

Famous quote and tweet- source unknown

Social media is unique, in the sense that it gives all of us access to a potentially limitless audience, almost immediately, without the benefit of context, body language, irony or any of the things which add texture and meaning to human interactions. To say that the potential for misinterpretation,bullying and trial by the mob is implicit, is to put it mildly. There are several extreme cases which underline the point and whilst many of us may have little sympathy for the Speakers wife for example, what about Emma Watson or Mary Beard? What did they do but try to educate and inform? Many others have suffered greatly for tweets which were clumsy or ill advised at worst. You may recall the Jewelry CEO who described his business as akin to 'selling junk to idiots'. Well, this was an old media faux pas and one ill conceived tweet may leave any of us understanding what it feels like to repent at leisure.

Just as it is advisable to avoid politics, religion and views on sex at dinner parties (particularly after the second bottle of wine), so these risks are writ large on social media. Your meaning can be misunderstood or pounced upon if you are clumsy. In these cases the punishment can far outweigh the crime and some lives have been broken by mob reaction, not to mention trolls, bigots and idiots of all kinds. There have always been such wicked people out there, social media simply gives them the opportunity to show us their inadequacies.

If all of this sounds a bit bleak then it shouldn't. Social media can be great fun and is a good way to connect with a large audience very easily, at work and play. LinkedIn is an incredibly useful tool for developing business and finding your next role for example. It allows you to say who you are, what you do best and to define your own personal brand, before others do that for you. You can make your profile more fun and interesting than an anodyne CV and communicate more about yourself through membership of relevant groups, through blogging and more direct communication with your connections.

There is of course a lot of 'noise' on social media and LinkedIn is by no means exempt. It may also be trying a little too hard these days- for example I, like many others, seem to be getting endorsed for skills I didn't know I have, by people I barely know. However, LinkedIn remains a useful tool and channel to market . It allows you to keep up to date with all of your contacts and to keep them up to date with you, in a crowded and noisy marketplace.

Although I am a late adopter, I find Facebook to be a fun and convenient way to keep in touch with friends in the UK and abroad. Alas, I can see my daughter's eyes rolling just at the thought of it. I pointed out to her that Facebook has enabled me to keep in touch with friends from school and most recently with friends who I met on a Kibbutz fully 30 years ago. To which she replied, 'I didn't know they had Kibbutz in those days' (does she really think that I am older than Israel?)

Which brings me to the point about demographics. Sadly for my daughters generation, social media is not the sole preserve of the sub 20 year old's and plenty of us older users derive a great deal of fun and interest from it. Besides, we have accumulated more genuine 'friends' than they are likely to have, in spite of what the Facebook stats have to say on the matter. At this point I can see my daughter leave the room altogether and log on to Instagram. Now that would be a step too far for me :-)

As an aside, I once heard a female describing a fellow Facebook user as over 45 and therefore past it. 'Shouldn't she be at home knitting or something like that' she said. Far from eradicating social biases, particularly towards women, and sometimes by women, social media often magnifies them. Because social media is still relatively new and shiny, it is viewed by some youngsters as 'no country for old men', or women apparently.

Facebook also has advantages from a business perspective and I know of no better way to communicate information of more than 140 characters, or articles like this one for example. I note that Life Labs has 1 million + likes now and no doubt many more followers. In a digital age, which Media or other businesses for that matter can afford not to have an Internet presence and strategy? The alternative is the approach of the Ostrich and the fate of the Dodo.

Finally, if you find yourself feeling uneasy about social media and what it means for each of us and for society as a whole, then it is worth reflecting that it is with us and it is here to stay. Like nuclear power, reality TV and Jeremy Clarkson, it cannot be dis-invented and we may as well accept that and try to mitigate its excesses, even if we chose not to actively embrace it.

My concerns, like many other peoples, are focused on the risks of bullying, attention span deficit, and the pitfalls of instant gratification for my children. What I have learned from talking to them is that like our conversations with our parents, they perceive that we are overreacting, that our fears are overstated and that the world has moved on. They may be right but of one thing I am sure. The laws of karma still operate in a digital universe and there is still a place for mindfulness, kindness and communicating with positive intent. Oh, and don't forget a little more reflection, and a little less red wine before you tweet!

David Head is a coach and mentor, as well as writer and blogger.

David Head

Coach and Mentor, Accelerating Experience

With twenty years experience in the search industry before becoming a coach, I combine highly personalised coaching and mentoring with broader commercial insight and perspective. I will help you to find your purpose, to thrive in your career and to change direction when this is what is needed. I will commit to helping you to achieve a state of flow by aligning values and purpose with what you do and how you do it. contact me via 07920 064056