The Social Media Reality Show

Lately, it seems as though “citizen journalism” in the form of blogging has been replaced with “celebrity journalism”. There are days when you think you’re watching a really bad reality show unfold online and in real time, no less.

Most recently, it was battle of the titans, Michael Arrington vs. Leo Laporte that generated  a great deal of buzz. What started off as a benign review of the new Palm Pre, unleashed a full-blown drama in the blogosphere. The trigger was Arrington’s questioning  of whether Laporte was being forthright about having received the Palm device for free. That line of questioning ticked Laporte off who perceived this as an attack on his his integrity and let off a tirade of expletives before shutting down the show.

Despite the very public “kiss and make up” in form of published apologies, angry mobs descended on the sites to drown out any rational debate. So now that we’ve all had some time to digest these happenings, here’s my take on this very real sordid saga.

First of all, it seems to have become common practice to issue death threats in the blogosphere. Anyone remember Kathy Sierra? Arrington’s brief hiatus earlier this year? And death threats now once again on the TechCrunch blog because of this latest incident. Despite overwhelming public condemnation of the hateful comments, there’s really no reason to believe we won’t continue to see repeat of this in the future.

 Arrington

 

 Secondly, cussing on-air seems to have become acceptable and anything’s fair game as long as you’re a “blogberty”. (On a slightly different note, I recently attended a keynote by a very well-known social media personality who couldn’t stop talking about alcohol and porn. As much as I respect the person in question and the speech was highly entertaining, I am still puzzled by that speech to this day.)

Lastly, the news itself..um what news? It’s a dangerous trend when the people who are supposed to report the news instead become the news themselves. With one-man machinations wielding considerable influence in the blogosphere, the news reporters are competing with the news makers for the headlines.

Although the traffic (driven by morbid curiosity) goes up, overall the credibility of the media goes down and it strengthens the perception that,

- Blogosphere is still the wild wild west, where anything goes and there are no rules

- Personal egos trump professionalism

- Fanatical mobs and trolls rule the social media space

The success of a truly “social” media is dependent on openness where everyone is free to opine but that doesn’t mean a vocal minority should be able to drown out the quiet majority. It also hinders social media adoption and participation if folks have to constantly worry about being drowned out by the mob. Jeremiah Owyang and other experts referred to this “fear” at a recent SNCR summit. Owyang said that people are afraid of speaking up online because they don’t want to be singled out and picked on.

Here’s one suggestion, how about getting serious about comment moderation? Arrington said that he deleted many of the death threats, and that’s a good start. Why give the crazies a forum to spew their hatred and hijack the conversation?!

But that’s just one part of it, these social media/blog celebrities also need to keep their egos (and mobs) in check and take these tiffs offline like most “normal” people do. Public drama may help traffic but it hurts the cause. Companies are trying to build relationships with these influential bloggers because of their ability to influence their customers not for their ability to rally fanatical mobs. 

The challenge is that these are larger than life celebrities with giant egos and while they completely deserve the glory that they’ve worked so hard for but these folks also need to set the right tone for their audience. I am hoping for some leadership to emerge from the early adopters who will hopefully, collectively devise some commonly accepted standards for online conduct. It won’t be easy with every blogberty jostling to be the top dog, but one has to start somewhere.