Tag Archives: twitter

24 Social Media Dos and Don’ts

As part of the Biola Digital Ministry Conference this week, I gave a seminar entitled “Becoming Social Media Savvy Without Losing Your Soul,” in which I discussed the etiquette of social media and some of the potentials and pitfalls in how we can use it as Christians. What does it mean to represent Christ in the social media space? To get at this question, my presentation included 12 “dos” of social media and 12 “don’t.” Here they are below, starting with the “don’ts.”

DONTS:

  1. Don’t tweet mostly about yourself. What you are doing, speaking engagements, travel, how cool you are.
  2. Don’t think about an experience mostly in terms of how you might share it on social media. (i.e. when you’re at a beautiful beach on vacation, don’t think about how you can share a picture of it on Instagram)
  3. Don’t retweet only things that say good things about you or your book, your product or your brand. Promote others’ content more than your own.
  4. Don’t include “Please RT!” in your tweets, use bad English, too many WORDS IN ALL CAPS, or too many !!!!
  5. Don’t crowd your social feeds with “check-ins” from all the glamorous places you’ve been. #Humblebrag
  6. Don’t tweet or post something in a highly emotional state or without taking time to consider whether it should be shared or not.
  7. Don’t post important life news on social media before communicating to your closest friends/family in person.
  8. Don’t spend more time on social media than you spend communicating to people face to face.
  9. Don’t flaunt your relationships by having public interactions on social media. Talk to people privately. Email, chat, direct message will do just fine.
  10. Don’t have awkward fights or edgy back-and-forths in public.
  11. Don’t revert to a junior high name-calling voice or pick fights.
  12. Don’t tweet something with big implications without running it by a few people. (e.g. “Farewell Rob Bell.”)

DOS:

  1. Promote the good, interesting, useful work of others; direct people to helpful resources that aren’t produced by you.
  2. Share things that you know your audience will find valuable. Think of their interests before your own. (e.g. If you are a food critic, tweet about the best new restaurant you’ve found. You’re audience is following you for your expertise in stuff like this).
  3. Respond to people’s questions when they ask them; ask your audience questions. Interact.
  4. Say thanks to people who say something nice to you or about you on social media.
  5. Be positive, affirming, uplifting, earnest (rather than negative, cynical, critical, ironic).
  6. When you do post about yourself, don’t be overly mechanic or self-aware. Be natural, real, authentic.
  7. If you lead a church/ministry, be especially careful how you communicate on social media. You are representing your church/ministry, whether you want to or not. And for any Christian: you are representing Christ.
  8. Let others talk up your books, articles, or products on social media. On occasion, feel free to retweet the praise-giving tweets of others (but only rarely).
  9. Use social media to bless others: share Bible verses, affirmative quotes… things that can brighten another’s day and/or spread the gospel. Those types of messages resonate.
  10. Use social media to enhance communities but not replace them.
  11. Quickly communicate important and timely information (e.g. if you are a church: service times, last minute venue changes, etc).
  12. If you are a leader or respected figure, respond to local or world events with a comforting, wise voice of authority.
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Why Partisanship is the New Normal

The ferociously partisan atmosphere in America these days isn’t limited to Washington D.C., though it certainly is epitomized there. No, the divisive, bitter ambience in this country exists everywhere, from sea to shining sea. A few minutes on cable news or a cursory scroll through one’s social media feed at any given moment (but especially on days like this) confirms it. And it’s getting worse.

“Moderate” is increasingly a relic in American culture. The ouster of Indiana senator (and moderate, bipartisan-minded Republican) Dick Luger is just the latest evidence of this. Republicans are getting more conservative and Democrats are getting more liberal. The country’s middle ground is quickly becoming no man’s land.

Issues like gay marriage are further entrenching both sides. The day after North Carolina became the 30th state to adopt a ban on gay marriage, President Obama  ended his “evolving views” stalling and admitted to supporting the opposite view, thrilling liberals and stealing some of the spotlight from what happened in North Carolina. For Obama and his ever bluer base, opposition to gay marriage is seen as gradually eroding. The expectation is that soon enough gay marriage will be completely acceptable in society. But there are signs that, for red state America, the opposite trend is occurring. Voters in North Carolina–a swing state that went blue for Obama in 2008–actually voted for the ban on gay marriage by a larger margin (61-39%) than expected, and seven percentage points larger than the 2006 margin (57-42%) of another gay marriage ban in fellow Southern swing state Virginia (also went blue for Obama in 2008). This appears to be another sign that the red base is getting redder on wedge issues like gay marriage, even while the blue base is becoming bolder and louder on such divisive issue.

Why are we experiencing such unprecedented ideological divergence in our culture? Why is it looking–tragically–as if the recovery of a middle ground and a bipartisan, cordial public discourse is increasingly unlikely?

It may sound obvious, and it may be old hat by now, but I believe a huge factor contributing to all of this is the Internet. Namely: the way that it has fragmented and niche-ified our media consumption. For former generations, “news” was the thing everyone watched at the same time at night on TV. It was the local newspaper. There were far fewer options, so everyone tended to learn about the news from the same sources. Some big cities had multiple newspapers with slightly divergent political bents, but for the most part normal folks didn’t have easy access to “news” with a decidedly partisan bent.

Not so today. Now, we have 24/7 access to it. Whatever one’s political leaning may be, an entire personalized media landscape can be constructed to reinforce it. There are TV channels, YouTube channels, websites, tumblrs, blogs, e-newsletters,  newspapers and radio stations for whatever political opinion you may have. Everyone processes media narratives that are as infinitely different from one another as snowflakes. Each of us has a totally unique combination of blogs we follow, news sites we read, and social media connections who shape our media intake. No wonder “consensus” is a thing of the past. We don’t live in a Walter Cronkite world anymore. We live in our own iNews bubbles of self-perpetuating, fragmentary and volatile media flows.

And it creates a snowball effect. Given the choice, liberal-leaning folks naturally will spend more time watching MSNBC and filling their Twitter feeds with people of a similar bent. Conservatives will naturally choose to watch Fox News and populate their feeds with advocates of GOP-friendly ideals. In a world where it’s as easy as clicking “unfollow” whenever someone says something that challenges our beliefs, our “feeds” of self-selected narratives of reality will make us neither educated nor enriched; they’ll simply make us more ardent in the beliefs we already hold.

In this “million little narratives” world of individually curated and (often) hyper-politicized media experiences, it’s easy to see how fringe groups and all manner of Anders Breivek-style zealotry may develop. It’s easy to see how ideology-oriented communities can become dangerously insulated and prone to “no compromise!” hostility to the Other. It’s easy to see why we’ve become so bad at talking cordially with those who are different than us. There are just so few forums for us to learn how to productively converse with a plurality of differing voices. And even if there were, would we willingly enter those forums when there are unlimited options of lesser resistance at our disposal?

I think we must. The landscape of new media, I believe, is such that society is only going to become more divided. There will be more turnover in Congress. Less ability to “reach across the aisle” without dire political consequences. It will not be easy to recover cordiality, and the values of respect and moderation in the public square will be lost, to disastrous effect. That is, unless we each make a point of combatting this in our own lives. Some suggestions for how to do this:

  • If you watch news on TV, watch a different channel every night, even if it pains you.
  • Don’t just pack your social media feeds with people who agree with you. Curate a diverse plurality of voices.
  • Avoid commenting on articles, Facebook posts or other online forums when you are angered or upset. Take time to think it over, and if you still want to say something, say it with care and nuance.
  • Just say no to the social media “instant commentary!” impulse.
  • Do you have at least some friends who have different political views than you? You should. Engage them in friendly, loving debate.
  • Avoid watching the “crazies” too much (whether on Fox News, MSNBC, or any other channel… you know of whom I speak).
  • Read books on complicated subjects, not just news articles or tweets.
  • Learn to value humility and (gasp!) be willing to change your views on something, if reason (not peer pressure) leads you there.
  • Read Marilynne Robinson.

And on that note, a wise quote by Marilynne Robinson’s stellar, prescient essay for our times, “Austerity as Ideology“:

Western society at its best expresses the serene sort of courage that allows us to grant one another real safety, real autonomy, the means to think and act as judgment and conscience dictate. It assumes that this great mutual courtesy will bear its best fruit if we respect, educate, inform and trust one another. This is the ethos that is at risk as the civil institutions in which it is realized increasingly come under attack by the real and imagined urgencies of the moment. We were centuries in building these courtesies. Without them “Western civilization” would be an empty phrase…

In the strange alembic of this moment, the populace at large is thought of by a significant part of this same population as a burden, a threat to their well-being, to their “values.” There is at present a dearth of humane imagination for the integrity and mystery of other lives. In consequence, the nimbus of art and learning and reflection that has dignified our troubled presence on this planet seems like a thinning atmosphere. Who would have thought that a thing so central to human life could prove so vulnerable to human choices?

Riots in Real Time

L.A. is such a mystery to me, as much now as it ever was; as baffling now as it was to my 9-year-old self watching the 1992 riots unfold live on the news, or to my 11-year-old self witnessing the surreal O.J. Simpson Bronco chase on the 405, a freeway I’ve come to know well in recent years.

In my younger days, L.A. was Bayside High, California Dreams, Encino Man, “Valley Girls,” Beverly Hills 90210, Disneyland, Hollywood, the Oscars. Or it was a place of constant calamity: the Northridge earthquake, mudslides, fires, various  car chases chronicled by the vulture news helicopters L.A. helped normalize. The point is: my understanding of L.A. was (and still is, to some extent) formed by media portrayals, mass-communicated narratives of “reality” packaged chiefly as entertainment. This is how we understand the world.

The ubiquity of media and its nonstop coverage of events has gradually shaped the way we perceive reality. So much of what we know about the world, and how we know it, relies on the way we receive it via media. When I was growing up, that meant television and movies. Now, it includes a whole lot more.

I expect that for many in my generation who grew up far from Los Angeles, the L.A. Riots were a formative influence in the shaping of perceptions of the City of Angels. I remember watching it on the evening news from my comfortable suburban home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, feeling like I was witnessing something from a movie, or at least something happening in a third world country. The surreal drama and (dare I say it) can’t-turn-away entertainment of it all was precisely what the mediators were going for. It’s engrossing. Big ratings.

Los Angeles lends itself especially well to the surrealist blurring of “news” and “entertainment,” perhaps because this town is the world’s largest factory of fiction, even while it is home to 4 million very real and very explosive, intersecting stories. In many ways the city narrates itself, making sense of its impenetrable complexity through reductionist cliches (E!), gossip blogs (TMZ, Gawker) and self-referential experiments in storytelling (think of The Hills, the Kardashians or anything featuring non-stars who become stars simply by playing the part on TV).

Against this backdrop, I present @realtimeLARiots for your consideration. Operated by L.A.’s local NBC news station, this Twitter account has over the last few weeks presented a fascinating experiment in anachronistic media narrative: what would the #LARiots have looked like to us had they been narrated tweet-by-tweet? In 1992 all we had were local news choppers and CNN coverage. TV. Twenty years later, the Internet and social media allows for a more real-time, fragmented, staccato form of storytelling. What does  that look like when applied to a dynamic, unfolding-over-days crisis like the Rodney King riots?

I followed @realtimeLARiots because I thought it would be interesting/entertaining to relive those riots via Twitter; a history lesson as told through a contemporary medium. And indeed it was. The account incorporated archival photos, videos, quotes, and statistics seamlessly, telling the story of the riots through 20 years of collected data and hindsight, with a tone of urgency (#crisis) that lent the experiment a feeling of almost-authenticity.

The experiment raised a few questions for me:

  • How have “big events” been understood in recent years in a different way through social media than they would have been had they occurred decades ago? 9/11 predated social media, but it’s interesting to think about how our understanding of that day might look different had we all experienced it on Facebook and Twitter.
  • What does it mean to receive 140-character bursts of news (#UPDATE: Riot-related injuries up 1,800, says LA hospitals)–news that is very real and tragic for the people it is actually happening to–in between tweets about Jessica Simpson’s baby and a viral video about cute kittens? How does the leveling “feed” format of social media intake change the way we understand the weight and significance of any given thing?
  • What is the real purposes of something like @realtimeLARiots? Is it to educate and inform, to entertain, or to try something interesting and experimental with Twitter? I suspect it is the latter.

The whole thing feels like something Marshall McLuhan or Jean Baudrillard would be fascinated by, and indeed, I think this quote from the latter captures something of what we’re talking about here:

“…what if the sign did not relate either to the object or to meaning, but to the promotion of the sign as sign? And what if information did not relate either to the event or the facts, but to the promotion of information itself as event? And more precisely today: what if television no longer related to anything except itself as message? This is where McLuhan’s formulation can be seen to be absolutely brilliant: the medium has swallowed the message and it is this, the multi-medium, which is proliferating in all directions. And we are, indeed, seeing terrestrial and cable channels and services proliferating while actual programme content is disappearing and melting away — the TV viewer’s almost involuntary channel-hopping here echoing television’s own obsession with its own channels.

“But this is not where the true corruption lies. The secret vice, already pointed out by Umberto Eco, lies in the way the media become self-referring and speak only among themselves. The multimedium is becoming the intermedium. This already problematic situation is aggravated when it is a single hypermedium — television — eyeing itself. All the more so as this tele-centrism is combined with a very severe implicit moral and political judgement: it implies that the masses basically neither need nor desire meaning or information — that all they ask for is signs and images. Television provides them with these in great quantities, returning to the real world, with utter — though well camouflaged — contempt, in the form of ‘reality shows’ or vox-pops — that is to say, in the form of universal self-commentary and mocked-up scenarios, where both the questions and the answers are ‘fixed’.”

-Jean Baudrillard, Screened Out (2002)

In Praise of Being Out of the Loop

The technological structures of our Twitterstream, iPhone-ready, newsticker, push-notification culture have made “being in the loop” as natural a thing for us as breathing–and almost as important. These days, it’s seen as essential to know what’s going on in the world–what’s trending–and not only to know about it, but to comment on it. If something is being buzzed about or going viral, we must chime in: unleash a quick Facebook update, add a Tweet to the chorus, throw up a blog post with “Thoughts on ____” before anyone else can.

And it all must be done expediently, because to wait or be late to the conversation is to admit–heaven forbid–being somewhat out of the loop. You see this a lot when people post something on Twitter/Facebook with the caveat, “I know I’m late to the game on this, but…” Who cares if you’re late to the game? As if the quality of comment is less vital than its timeliness.

I’m troubled by the value we place on quickness in our culture. The rush to “join the conversation” doesn’t necessarily help the conversation. Frequently it hurts it. Sometimes our quickness perpetuates the spread of misinformation. When the urge is to comment first, research later, the conversation becomes scattershot and unreliable. It’s no wonder no one knows what to think about KONY2012. Before I even saw the video, there were already a million wildly contradictory opinions about it being circulated.

The thing with KONY2012, though, is that its very existence seemed to discourage reflection. It urged people to watch a 30-minute video and then ACT! Tweet to Justin Bieber! Share the video on Facebook! Buy a poster kit! The uncontrollable social media maelstrom that followed happened because Invisible Children played right into the unreflective “quickness culture,” which worked at getting the thing viral but arguably did not work in cultivating a trustworthy/reliable/non-reactionary conversation.

Meanwhile, the same “tweet first, think later” impulse that propelled KONY2012 to its “explode the Internet” status, ironically, is helping to spread the Jason Russell meltdown news (and all of its iffy allegations) across the same viral space. Which is a shame, but not surprising. This is how things go in the quickness culture.

Let me be the first to say that I’ve been complicit in this culture and have often felt the need to add my instant reaction to some buzzworthy news. But the KONY2012 phenomenon has got me thinking anew about the value of slowing down and relinquishing my need to be so in the loop and real-time conversant. When KONY2012 broke, part of me said “you must blog about this!” When I didn’t do that, I felt the urge to at least chime in with endorsements of other articles, sending one of those “This is the best thing I’ve read so far on ___” tweets. But ultimately I came to see that perhaps the best thing to do is just to stay silent, live my life, let the dust settle and then comment (or not) on it much later.

Not commenting instantly on something like KONY2012 means there’s blog traffic I won’t get that I could’ve gotten; there’s a few Twitter followers I might have gotten out of it. Oh well.

I desire to be more out of the loop. I want to go a day without knowing what the Twitterverse is talking about. I want to let trending topics come and go without ever knowing they happened. I want to be like Marilyn Hagerty, who didn’t know (or care) that for the rest of the world, Olive Garden was “old news.” I don’t want to care about something just because it’s hot right now and everyone is talking about it; I want to care about something because it is interesting, important, worth thinking about. I don’t want to blog, tweet, or talk about things I haven’t mulled over or wrestled with first. I want to resist the idol of quick-to-the-draw commentary.

And while I’m at it, I want to focus more on my own challenges: the right-in-front-of-me conversation, the local issues, the everyday battles–rather than injecting myself into the global so urgently and ignorantly. Sure, I want to care for the world. It’s important to know what’s going on. But it shouldn’t take precedence over being present in my own life, and being attentive to the needs of my own community. I’d rather be out of the loop than disengaged from the world right in front of me; though I suspect (and hope) there’s a way we can balance both: being plugged in to there and present here, and thoughtful in each sphere.

Social Media Slips

Say what you will about the positives of social media (and certainly there are quite a few positives), but near the top of the negative column has got to be social media’s propensity for gaffes, slips, and careless no-filter missteps.

Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc) operates under the real-time logic of “share what’s on your mind NOW” bite-sized communication. It favors non-reflective pronouncements and emotional rants, and abhors the slow-down-let’s-think-about-this mindset which might cause someone to (heaven forbid) think twice about posting an update. As a result, people are frequently tweeting before they think about the ramifications. High-profile politicians are not immune (think Anthony Weiner), nor are celebrities (Chris Brown, Glenn Beck, etc).

Even prominent evangelicals like pastor John Piper have unleashed questionable tweets, such as the infamous “Farewell, Rob Bell” missive, or his more recent “five-year-olds who find sex boring” tweet.

Then there was Mark Driscoll’s recent Facebook post about effeminate worship leaders, which set off a firestorm after Rachel Held Evan’s took him to task in a well-circulated blog post.

What’s going on here?

It seems clear that social media is particularly gaffe-prone. And it also seems clear that anyone on social media needs to try harder to slow down and think through what they will communicate on these platforms.

Though social media certainly lends itself to a sort of on-the-fly pontificating, it’s a much more effective tool when exercised with restraint and bolstered by some semblance of strategy and big-picture thinking. In the same way that you would read and re-read an important email to one person, is it too much to ask to read and re-read a tweet or Facebook status update that goes out to hundreds or thousands?

Poorly thought-out messages on social media can do severe damage, both to the sender and to the many receivers who happen to be scrolling through their feeds at any given moment. The impersonal, easy-as-1-2-3 nature of this sort of communication makes it easy to say wildly emotional, exaggerated, inflammatory things without feeling the sort of reticence one might feel in a more personal or face-to-face setting. And the required brevity of posts (140 characters or less on Twitter) makes it hard to communicate context or nuance.

This is not to say that one should refuse to use Twitter and other social media platforms to sound off on hot topics or to speak strongly about something. It can be done well. I just think we’d all be a bit better off if we had a more careful, deliberate approach… opting to not necessarily tweet every thought we have about any given thing, but to consider that sometimes saying nothing is better than squeezing an essay-length diatribe into a woefully truncated package and letting it loose on the world.

I Joined Twitter… Sigh.

September 19 was a dark day for me… but one that I feared would come soon enough.

I joined Twitter.

This is after years and years of publicly campaigning against it in articles such as “The Problem of Pride in the Age of Twitter” and “Short Attention Span Faith.” 

And now I am a part of the monster, feeding it like everyone else…

Here’s why I did it:

1)  September 19th is my annual “sell out to technology” day. Last year I joined Facebook on Sept. 19.
2)  I might as well try it before I knock it even more.
3)  I have a book to promote.

I still think it’s silly and quite possibly a sign of the apocalypse, but hey, so are a lot of things.

If you want to “follow me” (is that the phrase?) on Twitter, here’s my url: http://twitter.com/brettmccracken

Things I will tweet include book updates, article links, random thoughts, and other worthwhile things that are under 140 characters. I promise I won’t inundate you with what I’m having for dinner or when I’m feeling sleepy or bored.

If I do, feel free to un-follow me (or whatever you call that). I’ll completely understand.

Our Addiction to Public Communication

I wrote a new technology piece in Relevant magazine’s September/October issue, entitled “Short Attention Span Faith.” You can read the whole thing by clicking here, but here’s a short little excerpt:

Unsurprisingly, this frenzied, obsessive-compulsive proclivity toward being digital busybodies has deleterious effects on Christian disciplines like Bible study and prayer. How do we justify sitting down and praying for an hour when there are Hulu videos to browse, “What Ninja Turtle are you?” quizzes to take, and online “community” to cultivate? If we’re not wired, plugged-in, and communicating with the world at all times, it seems like such a waste of time…

…This is one of the biggest problems that must be reckoned with in the Twitter age: our ever diminishing inclination and/or ability to slow down and think thoroughly, deeply, and profoundly about anything. We speed through an article or web page in 60 seconds and pronounce it “read.” We see a blurb about our friend from high school’s weekend at the lake and pronounce the friendship “maintained.” But in this flurry of bite-sized narrative and dollar menu mediation, are we able to truly be self-aware? Can we consider things and know God and ourselves?

At the end of the day, it’s just hard for us to have interior thought lives anymore. It’s hard to keep anything to ourselves and be reflective just for ourselves. With Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and the quick-and-easy communication efficiency of cell phones, we’ve gotten used to the notion that anything worth saying can and should be shared with the digital community in real time. Any idea or thought worth having should be public. Everything is cooperative, collective, and wiki-oriented. When we sit alone and contemplate something that isn’t meant to be shared with the whole wide world, we almost don’t know what to do with ourselves.

I know this temptation all to well, as a writer/blogger who sometimes doesn’t value the “keep it to yourself” type of thinking. It’s so easy to say anything and everything to any and every one these days. It’s hard to keep thoughts, ideas, and rants to oneself when a huge audience is just a “publish” click away (I realize the irony that I’m blogging about this). Our culture has conditioned us to glory in attention and publicity and recognition; It’s only natural that we are increasingly finding it difficult to not live public lives. More and more, the defacto barometer of a well-lived life is not necessarily the quality or depth of our contribution to society but the breadth of it—the extent to which it is widely disseminated and known. It’s like the more Facebook friends or Twitter followers one has, the more actualized they are as a person.

What we communicate via these media platforms is not nearly as important as the fact that we have an audience, somewhere out there, listening or glimpsing into our lives. It affirms our existence, pats us on the existential back and sends us on our way, no better or worse off but for the few meaningless minutes or hours that we’ll never get back.