Saturday, June 25, 2011

Social Media Idiocy, Part III – Projection

In Part I of this series on Social Media Idiocy, I derided the stupidity of "followback etiquette."

In Part II of the series, I explained that you don't have to follow self-proclaimed experts' rules to achieve social media success -- especially if these so-called rules would interfere with your own personal enjoyment or value-add.

Today, in Part III, I use real-life examples to demonstrate the complete unreasonableness of the proponents of these social media "rules" and "etiquette."

This is where Social Media Idiocy crosses the line into Social Media Psychosis.

From about age seven to seventeen, I had a frenemy whom I shall call "Terence."

My mother nudged me into befriending Terence when I was in second grade. Even though he was sometimes annoying (and even, sometimes, an outright jerk), for some combination of reasons I continued to hang out with him over the course of ten years.

Once, as children, Terence and I were playing in his basement while our moms were in the upstairs kitchen. At some point, Terence and I got into a mild argument, which I was winning.

In the middle of the argument, Terence told me -- quite out of the blue -- "Take off your glasses."

"What?" I said.

"Take off your glasses," he calmly repeated.

Not clear on the relevance to the point I had just made, but being a pretty compliant kid, I said, "Okay..." and took off my glasses.

Terence promptly punched me in the eye.

That's not the punchline, though (pun unintended).

The selfsame instant Terence's fist hit me, Terence immediately yelled, "Oww!" and clapped his hand over his eye.

He then, quickly, ran away upstairs. Moments later, I heard Terence shout, "Mom! Joey punched me in the eye!"

Need to read that again? Don't worry; I'll wait.

(...doo de doo de doo...)


What's the matter? Doesn't make sense?

That's right; Terence had launched a premeditated preemptive strike, blaming me for doing to him what he had actually done to me (i.e., punching).

The effect of Terence's actions was that he got sympathy while I got scolded; not even my own mother believed me when I protested that it was Terence who had punched me -- not the other way around. Terence had immediately changed the conversation from one between the two of us (where I had the upper hand) to one involving our mothers (where he, by virtue of his accusation and whining, had the upper hand).

It was rather brilliant, in a psychotic way.

I would later come to learn that this was an example of what psychologists call extreme projection -- a pathological defense mechanism in which a person denies his own actions, attributes, thoughts, or feelings -- while projecting them onto others.

(A non-extreme, non-psychotic example of this might be when you respond to your significant other's criticisms of your driving by bringing up the time s/he almost got the two of you killed when s/he hesitated on a left turn.)

Like any leopard, Terence did not change his spots. Years later, for instance, when a friend of mine he was dating dumped him because of some lousy thing he did, Terence told people that he had actually dumped her because she had done the lousy thing that he actually did.

It was exactly this kind of ongoing, manipulating behavior that made Terence such a frustrating (to say the least) person to associate with. Unsurprisingly, he was never a popular kid.

But boy, did he know how to get sympathy.

Social Projection

A blog post I recently came across entitled "Three Numbers that Prove You Suck at Empire Avenue" epitomizes almost everything that is wrong with social media.

The blogger argues that, because his engagement and amplification are lower than he expects them to be, everybody else is doing social media wrong. He bases his arrogant arguments on the myth of Twitter Ecology -- that anyone who deigns to not follow him back is making a grievous mistake.

(To be fair, the blogger offers this post specifically in the way of advice related to improving one's numbers on Empire Avenue -- but Empire Avenue is an artificial, fake social media metric anyway.)

Through this blog post, this blogger has become a figurative, social media version of my "friend" Terence -- punching hundreds of people in the face while evangelizing/whining that he alone holds the moral high ground. He has denied whatever social media inadequacies he possesses while projecting them onto all of those who have refused to return his social media attentions.

To top it all off, this blogger is doing exactly what Terence did when he ran upstairs with his hand clapped over his uninjured eye -- whining to an arbiter (in this case, his readers, and the Internet at large) for favorable judgment and sympathy.

This blogger is not alone in his projection tactics; the social media space is full of self-anointed "gurus" and "experts" and "ninjas" who do the substantially the same thing. They criticize, ridicule, and rebuke (for silly things, no less, like sheer follower numbers) those social networkers who patiently focus on organic contributions and value-adds because those are qualities that the gurus/experts/ninjas/whatevers themselves lack.

The upshot is that those ignorant about social media may come to blindly accept the evangelized position of the blogger in question (and those like him): that they should always follow back (and, especially, follow this blogger), because it is the only way to engage social media correctly.

To me, this is a worse social media sin than his tortured logic, because:
  1. There is no single "right" way to do social media, and
  2. Even if there was a single, correct way to do social media, that is certainly not it.
Follows, connections, engagement, and amplification are things that must be earned on social media -- not bought or coerced. Otherwise, the whole thing is an artificial game, devoid of the organic power that social media holds for the patient and engaging.

If you want people to pay attention to you on social media (in a good way), add value. Adding value for others is the best strategy for Empire Avenue, the best strategy for social media, and often the best strategy for life.

Guilting, shaming, whining, denying your own shortcomings, acting like an arrogant jerk -- those strategies yield only short-term victories that go nowhere. They're the kinds of things that Terence would do.

Don't be a Terence.

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