I few months ago a Facebook friend of mine posted something offensive. Not the bad language thing, but the stupid kind of offensive. Let’s just say that I’m pretty sure anybody who enjoys this blog would not enjoy that post. I’m also sure the post was satirical in nature, but I’m not sure that would be clear to a reader who didn’t know this person outside of Facebook.
I pay attention to stuff like this because I am associated with a couple of organizations that have Facebook pages and a post of this nature on one of those pages could do some serious harm. The problem lies in that “you have to know him” bit.
Last summer I wrote about the notion of 6 degrees of separation – I was going in the opposite direction at the time, but I mentioned that the basic premise is that we are all connected to each other and likely within 6 hops. This concept is interesting, but the interest wanes as the connections drift across more and more nodes. For example:
I know a woman who knows the pope. It’s true, I saw photo of her with the Pope in the Pope place. Knowing the Pope is impressive. The fact that I know her is only mildly interesting and if you extend that beyond me it stops being interesting at all. If you say “I know a guy who knows someone who knows the pope” you’re not likely to draw a crowd. In fact, that’s actually quite common since every practicing Roman Catholic on the planet knows a guy who knows a guy who knows the Pope.
Furthermore, given how easy it is to get to the Pope, many of you “know” me. It’s possible that you know a guy (priest) who knows a guy (Cardinal) who knows the Pope, who knows a woman who knows me. There. Done. Easy peasy. Nice to meet you. We even have a couple degrees left over, so pick anybody I know and you can be connected to them too.
Separation is even more damaging to explanations. That is why you have to be careful about what you post in social media.
Consider a different scenario, one where I had ‘Liked’ the post I was talking about earlier. If you saw that, you might wonder a bit about me. If you know me, I mean actually know me; you might ask me what I was thinking. “Dude, what were you thinking?” I would explain that my friend was being sarcastic. You would say something like “Oh, OK I get it, but he’s still a jackass.”
Now, if you extend that one more degree, you have a situation where someone you know says: “what’s up with that post that Dan liked?” At that point, you’re likely to say something like: “I don’t know, he says the guy didn’t really mean it, but I don’t even know why he follows that jackass.” In other words, the explanation breaks down and I look as bad as my friend.
In this real, albeit proxy example, all I have to do to prevent any damage to me is to not “Like” my friend’s original post. However, if my friend, or a coworker was posting on behalf of our company, or one of the organizations I am affiliated with, we (they) are in trouble. There won’t be an opportunity to explain anything.
I try to run my department under the motto: “no explanations necessary” and I would urge you to consider adopting that motto. If what you do, say, write, post, Tweet, “Like” or retweet requires an explanation, you messed up. Not only did you mess up, but the damage is going to spread like kudzu. You can start doing “damage control” but there’s no way you are going to chase down all the end points. On the other hand, maybe you can get the Pope to intercede; I mean you do kind of know him.