Reaffirming the Internet Breeds Incivility

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Perhaps you saw the dust-up yesterday. Peter Shankman called out my business partner Kami Huyse for a post about one of his tweets (pictured above). Kami was using it as an example to create a conversation about Internet civility… The original tweet was a demonstration. Time consumption abuse by folks who don’t value Peter’s time was used to flaunt rates and be generally flippant on Twitter.

Just an observation that Kami never pointed at Peter directly by name or link, instead using the content of the Tweet as a discussion point. While her title was sensational — I Don’t Have Time to Google You: Microfame Breeds Arrogance — I think she was making a point about mindful conversation in not calling out Peter. Then this happens:

1) Peter Shankman gets angry when he sees the post, responds by titling a second post with her name in it — An Open Letter to Kami Watson Huyse, APR — then linked to her, thus turning a conversation about one of his tweets (anonymously discussed) into a would-be blog war.

2) He also knew that doing so would put the post in search, particularly with his blog’s weight. He is a PR master (the founder of HARO), thus creating a permanent SEO “record” for Kami.

3) Peter turned the conversation about civility into a victim story about how he should get paid (“Still think it’s about me being a douche?,” asks Peter). Poor Peter. Frankly, I get the same BS where people are asking me for free work/blogs all the time. It doesn’t mean that I am entitled to drop a tweet like that and flaunt “my greatness” to my community.

4) Finally, Peter unleashed his fans on Kami, many of which seem to be unable to distinguish between the original story about civility and Peter’s spin about not getting paid. Instead they pile on hate and angst without thinking about the context of the story. Kami’s an experienced online communicator and can take the heat, but a less experienced person would be devastated.

Sorry, but this entire affair — and in particular Peter Shankman’s arrogant remarks as well as the many nastygrams from his fans — only reaffirmed Kami’s original point that the Internet breeds incivility. It also reaffirmed many, many negative feelings I have about personal branders. All in all, it was not a pretty day on the Internet.

Overall, I question the mindfulness of the affair. From Kami’s provocative stance to spark a conversation to pointed personality attacks from a supposed industry leader and finally, the pile-on commenting from fans, it wasn’t the most loving conversation I’ve seen.

In all activities online, I find it useful to ask myself is this about me, or about being of service to the larger community? When it is the prior it usually leads me awry. It’s ego-driven, and frankly creates personal investment that can lead to situations like the above. When I am trying to help others, it often becomes a much more mindful thing.

A good reminder as we go into the rest of the week that our tongues can be powerful weapons… Or forces for good. It’s a choice.

26 Replies to “Reaffirming the Internet Breeds Incivility”

  1. Big egos and short tempers don’t work well in this environment, Geoff. I’ve been guilty of both from time to time. Given how long Mr. Shankman has been in this space, you’d think he’d have learned that lesson by now.

  2. I have been there with you, Bill. And I have learned it’s my ego that causes me to act in such ways, and that such acts hurt the general conversation and market. As to the individual in question, it sure makes you want to opt for Profnet ;)

  3. I won’t be as harsh on Peter. He’s more impulsive than anything, but he’s made it work for him.

    I am disappointed, however, on the wannabes and lapdogs that jumped in and made uncalled-for and inaccurate statements about Kami, in an effort to curry favor with Peter.

    Go look up the Spike and Chester cartoons. Little Chester wants so desperately for Spike to respect him, so he puffs up his chest and barks at everything. “Did ya see that, Spike?! Did ya see that? Did ya?! Did ya?!!”

    Lapdogs.

  4. Thanks for this examination, Geoff. I was taken by Kami’s post, in a positive way, but disappointed in Peter’s response. When we look objectively at the rise of this type of incivility, it strikes me as the exact same set of factors that has led to the rise of citizen journalism, the democratization of the Internet and the very underpinnings of broad-based acceptance of social media. Perhaps it is a case of not being able to take our own medicine?

  5. @Ike Ha, the lack of wisdom of the crowd in this instance. I guess Andrew Keen would say, “See! See!”

    @Fran Good question, and I am not sure I have an answer for that.

  6. I will take you criticism about the title with humility. Perhaps it should have been less strong, but it was meant to be that we, as the collective, are getting arrogant. It’s a real problem and I am not going to let this incident deter me from taking a stand on civility.

    Belive me, I measure myself with the same yardstick, as you well know. Still, it has become impossible to point out when very popular personalities come off in an arrogant way without getting your head handed to you from the crowd that have come armed with pitchforks.

  7. @Kami I only reacted because I told Ted Leonsis to Google Me six months ago (ha ha!). Seriously, I have done far worse, and am no angel. While your title was provocative, it was spot on in content and thesis. It’s something I don’t like in myself, and actively resist and try to avoid.

  8. I didn’t trace back Kami’s post to Peter because frankly, I’ve seen tweets like that before, and I take them in stride. It seemed pretty clear to me that the post wasn’t an attack on Shankman, but a general article about a bigger issue. He says he was being tongue in cheek, but his response doesn’t seem fair minded but reactionary.

    What disappoints me the MOST is the is the “pile on” effect that happens when people take up the offenses of others. It seems that many commenters didn’t take the time to read or do any form of reasearch — they just PILED ON to Peter’s post — and many did so without regard for the person underneath.

    I’ve seen this before, and this certainly isn’t a worst case example. But it does have the potential to get UGLY – like this incident I wrote about a while back (when i was experimenting with Plurk). The crowd began prank calling the alleged offender… and signing him up for porn spam… and all kinds of stuff:

    http://livepath.blogspot.com/2008/07/plurkers-take-care-of-their-own.html

    Those of us who know better should use caution about stoking up the crowd – and of piling on, ourselves. It’s just that simple. I try to remind myself of this all the time… even when it feels good to take a swipe at someone I feel may be deserving.

  9. Why should we expect a higher level of discourse among supposed professional communicators than we get from the population at large? Seems to me the entire realm of public discourse has devolved into a shouting match (cf. last summer’s “townhall” meetings) where listening has become a lost art. It’s all partisanship all the time and the prevailing sentiment is, “My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.” If Shankman can’t take a little criticism like an adult, maybe he’s not the social media/ communications guru so many think he is.

  10. Hi Geoff,

    I want to step back from the incident at hand (I left a comment on Kami’s blog earlier), and focus on a bigger issue — the Cult of Personality.

    I know you dislike personal branding. But I truly don’t think that’s the issue. I see personal branding as tied to reputation and what you do with it. I think where personal branding goes off-kilter is when you end up believing everything others say | write | tweet | post about you.

    It seems that a lot of the incivility in social networks is less about a public one-on-one spat and more about engaging others to pile on on your behalf.

  11. @Daria I definitely think that the larger issue — whether you call it leveraging your personal brand or your reputation — to engage one’s community in a pile-on definitely occurred here. The victim complex in some of the remarks, too, also ties back to buying into the hype. Finally, the real term here is cyber-bullying. And that’s what occurred.

  12. There is an awesome lesson to be learned here. And I think this lesson best serves Peter.

    If you aren’t going to like responses to your communication, keep your mouth shut.

    I’m saving this one to serve up another day. :)

    Best,
    Rich

  13. Saw his open letter, read her post. While I agree that no one should be expected to give away their knowledge/time for free, I didn’t see anything in her post to garner that kind of response. Sometimes I feel I’m the only one saying the emperor has no clothes, so I just don’t comment either way. ;)

  14. Perhaps a perspective to consider: For 25 years I have had the pleasure of being educated by the group that Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation (those who experienced the Great Depression and WWII). The most successful among them share common traits.

    They are generous beyond belief, with their knowledge, time, and resources. Far beyond what us “young-ones” would consider as being extremely generous.

    Their accomplishments are remarkable, but you would never know it while talking with them, because their humility exceeds their success.

    They truly want you to be more successful than they have been, though they would NEVER say that to you. They instead demonstrate their desire through deeds and action. They then thank you for “letting” them learn from you – as though that’s true.

    They ask ten questions, before making one statement. The questions are always good, and the statement is often as much a question as answer.

    As I read about the subject of Geoff’s post, I thought of the those I have known in the Greatest Generation, and wondered what they would have thought and done. First, I doubt they would do anything to even be in such a situation. Had it happened to them, though, I’m sure they would find ways to graciously praise whoever was involved and would then, without any appearance of malice, ask questions to learn from the situation. It’s just their way, and I hope we don’t let their lessons of how to be gracious and curious fade into the past.

  15. Geoff, very thoughtful post.

    Like you, I get many, many of those types of requests. I don’t have the bandwidth or resources to meet with everyone on a pro bono basis. (I do have to put food on the table and pay the rent … and I do have a family) but I would never insult those people by posting a tweet about being paid…

    Perhaps because my “community” are people who work for nonprofits and they are resource strapped, I’ve always felt some sense of giving back to the nonprofit community.

    What I do, is at least thank people for their request, introduce them to someone who has more expertise/time, or point them to an online resource. I wish I had an endless supply of time and resources to say yes personally to the hundreds and hundreds of requests. That’s why I try to spread the love within my network.

    The other takeaway lesson is that personal brand does not scale!!

  16. @Beth Kanter; To be honest, the way that I see you so graciously handle these types of requests, day in and day out and truly care about your community, is probably why I thought the tweet sounded arrogant. I hope to keep learning from you for a long time to come.

  17. I want to point out that Peter has, for free, helped our nonprofit in many different ways.

    I just wish Kami could have used his tweet as a launching pad for her post but use hypothetical situations instead of his exact tweet (not naming him, in my opinion, but still using his tweet meant that there would be a response from him). Shame it’s come to this since Peter is a good guy. The flames have been fanned by both sides which is also unfortunate.

  18. There have been several well thought out points raised here on this incident, but I have an alternative thought to offer. Having read both Kami’s original post and Peter’s response, I’m wondering if the real issue has become not so much “arrogance” as it is “outrage.” I think that the Internet creates a susceptibility to outrage and the easy availability of instant revenge.

    The term “arrogance” seems to be a sore spot with Peter, judging by his response. Perhaps Kami could have explained a bit more that she’s found Peter very approachable in the past, which is why the tweet that started all this startled her so, and got her thinking about her topic. But that’s editing after the fact.

    I’m guessing Peter intended to come across as humorously sarcastic in his Blog response, but to my eyes it was angry and biting, especially the way he termed his response “an open letter.” That’s emotionally charged wording in public advocacy circles. But was the response disproportionate to the “offense?” Kami, at least, did not name the sender. It’s a shame Peter didn’t afford her the same courtesy.

    Does the Internet allow, even encourage us to be easily offended and respond to a degree that we would not do if we had to pick up a phone; or type a letter, affix a stamp and take it to the Post office as we once did? Have our online responses inflated to the point where we use a figurative sledgehammer instead of a flyswatter because it’s so easy to do so? It takes mere seconds or minutes to dash off an angry response and hit “Enter,” much less time than it takes to think things through. Are we, professionally and personally, engaging in easy, instant outrage because the Internet enables it? And what impression does that leave of us as professional communicators, to our colleagues and current/potential clients? The impression I now have of Peter (whom I’ve never met) is not necessarily terrible, but it’s certainly not good. And the memory of his response will linger, coloring my opinion of him, rightly or not.

    I know one thing – this is a perfect example of how not to engage in discourse with online audiences, and I’ve saved copies as illustrations for when I give workshops – all names changed to protect the participants, of course.

  19. @Beth Your ability to demonstrate dignity and grace in the face of adversity and challenging moments always amazes me, too. There’s one of many reasons why you are the CEO. Thanks for the great perspective.

  20. Late to this fray, but after reviewing yours, Kami’s and Peter’s post, I’m flummoxed as to how everyone continues to get stuck on the notion that Kami was somehow “attacking” Peter, or claiming he ought to work for free. She wasn’t doing that, and it’s not remotely what her post was about. Everyone is so focused on “defending” Peter where no defense was even needed, that they missed the whole point. It’s crazy-making, a true *headdesk* moment.

    I think, based on all the comments I’ve seen about this, that Peter has a history of not taking kindly to criticism. That would be fair enough, if she were even directly criticizing him in the first place! Like, way to make it all about you and prove her point entirely, guy.

  21. Oh and FWIW, my favorite part of the discussion on Peter’s post was when Brogan chimed in with his $22k-a-day figure. I love Chris, and he’s probably worth even more than 22k a day, but I found that interjection into the conversation hilariously obnoxious. Probably not intended that way, but came off a bit “$400 an hour? Oh is that all? Well I make $22k a day dontcha know.”

    Meanwhile I’m hanging out in my one bedroom apartment, staring at my cats and contemplating what went wrong in my life. It’s like the people who won’t shut up about being in love. Like, we get it, okay? Now leave the rest of us to our misery. ;-)

  22. @Debra “The term “arrogance” seems to be a sore spot with Peter.” I guess if the shoe fits… In my mind this has become a great example where someone’s personal brand or postured image is counteracted by actions and reputation… Wherever you go there you are.

    None of this would have been a big deal if Peter had simply said, “You know what, was pissed and I overreacted. Please excuse me.” Instead, we get denial and defense, which seems to give the argument further credence.

  23. I don’t agree that she didn’t name him. His Twitter ID is in the lower left corner and anyone who knows him recognizes that avatar. It’s not like she ONLY copied the text. She left in his name and picture.

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