The Anti-Social Network

(I’ve returned from my trip a few months ago, but didn’t have enough to blog about; hopefully, this is my returning to a semi-regular posting schedule; also, I’ve decided to veer off .NET in some of my posts, focusing on more issues that I like to talk about and offer my opinions on)

(Update: This article is now featured in Hebrew in Gal Mor’s blog “Holes in the Net”)

CC-BY-NC, Min Jung Kim Social networks have been flourishing in the past few years, and have let us reach more people than we could before them. I, personally, use both Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis. The trend of ‘socialized’ applications is steadily marching on. A simple example of that is e-commerce sites looking to increase their conversion rate with you using recommendations from your friends.

However, there is yet another trend coming up that we should worry about, which is users trying to force anti-social behavior. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. Facebook introduced the ‘Like’ feature in February 2009, making it easier for users to say that they like a certain something: a post, a picture, a link, etc. This feature was immediately put to good use, with people ‘liking’ things, instead of creating long comment chains. ‘Liking’ something was much easier, too, being a single-click action, and increased the amount of participation. The Like feature was a good thing.

    Lately, voices have come up in favor of creating a ‘Dislike’ button. Users feel that since they have an easy way to notify their friend that they like his or her post, that they should equally be able to notify them of not liking it, discouraging the person from continuing this kind of activity.
    To use the ‘Dislike’ feature would be like saying to someone’s face that their joke was not funny or that they are ugly. Face to face, you might only do that to your closest friends and family and even then in jest, but online it’s much easier to be anti-social. The socially acceptable alternative to the ‘Dislike’ button would be to ‘Hide’ that friend’s updates, which unlike ignoring someone in the real world, is something the friend will never know about and will therefore never get offended by.
  2. The way to use Twitter is not something users can agree on. One thing that is widely agreed upon, though, is that following someone means you care what they say. That leads most people to the mistaken belief that the more followers you acquire, the more people will believe you are important and influential.One of the ways in which users are attempting to inflate their follower count is the contemptible habit of expecting auto-follow-back. This means that the user follows you, waits for you to follow them back and then un-follows you if you haven’t. This widely embraced practice causes unsuspecting users to be barraged with a very large number of follow notifications from people, brands and companies they have no interest in.This is downright adamant to spam, which we can all agree is one of the least socially acceptable activities you can partake in online.

These examples just go to show the trend of users wanting to add anti-social behavior to a social platform.

Social networks, on their part, should never allow themselves to be catalysts for anti-social behavior. Anti-social activities, such as hiding users or reporting them or their actions should remain hidden from all other users and must remain in confidence between the user and the platform. The real world parallel to this would be ‘telling on’ someone, which is frowned upon.
Facebook tries to avoid that by making all positive social activities more open, while keeping the anti-social activities on a one-on-one basis between the user and the platform. Unfavorable comments are still prevalent, but are unavoidable.
Twitter is, on the other hand, lagging far behind by keeping their network very much bare of personal filters (no way to hide unwanted tweets) and allowing users to easily find out who un-followed them, to name just a few issues.

The rule-of-thumb I present here does not stop with social networks, but continues to other socially-influenced platforms. Socially-enabled games follow this rule too: FarmVille, which at the time of writing of this post is the most popular and fastest growing game of all time on Facebook, does the same.
Players have a multitude of socially-positive activities to choose from, such as sending each other gifts, taking in animals their friends put up for adoption, helping out on friends’ farms and even racing each other to the top of their local hall of fame in the long run. On the other hand, there are no socially-negative activities in the game: players can not steal crops or animals from friends, mess up their farms, etc.

Social platforms should make it easy to broadcast socially-positive activities and hard to broadcast the negative ones. Once they follow this simple frame of mind, they will reap the psychological and sociological benefits.


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