Allow Me to Explain…or Not

You could almost agree with the statement if you didn’t know that by “property” he meant other human beings whose lives he sought to control and whose liberty he sought to deny. From the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum.

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.

See how that doesn’t make you feel special? You don’t really know me at all. The 4 degrees of separation in that linked-list represent too big a leap.image

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 onimage 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.

15 thoughts on “Allow Me to Explain…or Not

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  1. Pictures – Top: I don’t usually include a caption but I think you can see how, without the explanation, the meaning of that photo could be misunderstood. Middle: The illustration is by our regular staff artist :) – Bottom: An original form of social media – carved in stone. This is outside the Dallas Morning News building and it’s sad, but this might actually offend some people today.


  2. My basic rule is: If I have to stop and think before pressing enter, I probably just shouldn’t put it out there. Great food for thought here, lots of things to chew on and mull over. My landlord is Catholic, does that put me in line for knowing someone, who knows someone, who…. oh never mind. Loved your ending!


    1. Hey Kami, it’s great to meet you! There’s more than enough degrees to work your way to me through the landlord :) – Thanks for stopping by again and for taking the time to comment. As for pressing that Enter key, at least you think about it. Some of the things I read just leave me shaking my head in wonder.


  3. intriguing post Dan. communication is frequently a messy thing. particularly the assimilating understanding parts. not to mention the reaction parts. and the whole thing has me looking at Hobbits in a new light. and wondering what roles the other characters serve as metaphors. i may just stop looking at it as an epic story and instead view it as show and tell book of social psychology. at the risk of mashing metaphors – or avoidance – i will not draw the 6 degrees and the cast of Tolkien characters into comparison. that would require another cup of coffee first.


    1. Thanks for the comment John. that would be an interesting way to look at this. I notice a lot of people on Facebook doing the experiment that involves liking and sharing a simple thing, in order to show their children how quickly something “travels” on the Internet. Whatever way you like to illustrate it, I think Kami (above) focused on the age old truth – think before “speaking” – thanks for stopping by.


  4. You are right and although most of us know that, we can be careless for a second. It takes even less to click on a “like” icon. So in this new brave world, your post it like listening to our parents warning us to watch twice before crossing the street. Thank you.


    1. Touché! It is very easy to click on those buttons, but maybe our parents were right. We were taught to “look both ways” before crossing (which may be what you mean) but I was never so glad to have been taught that as I was when visiting England for the first time. Cars were coming from the “wrong” side :) Thanks for reading!


  5. Great post.

    I have been very alarmed at some of the stuff coming through Facebook. People that I knew (thought I knew) posting profanities and abusing their friends and family through the platform. I’ve honestly un-friend-ed some people as a result, and thought very long and hard about my associations. I’m wondering in my mind, is this what this person has always been thinking, and I have known them for 10 years. Crap!

    I recently found a member of my extended family making extremely racist and hateful comments on a political post regarding funding to some of the most vulnerable people within our community.


    Social media and our behaviour using it does reflect on our character (in my mind) and rather than behaving like we are anonymous and do not need to be held accountable (because it is on the internet and well, that’s not real life) we DO need to be thoughtful about our communication and how it could impact not only on the lives of others, but also how it could turn our own worlds upside down.

    I once wrote an Editorial piece in regards to this in the NT News.

    It’s easy to get carried away… Think twice is a good way to go before pressing ‘Post’ or ‘Like’…



    1. Thanks for the comment. I’m pretty careful about not posting dumb stuff (I like to think it’s because I don’t think that way in the first place). But, as Evelyne pointed out, it’s easy to be careless when Liking something. Fortunately, I managed not to get associated with the kind of remark posted by your extended family member. I don’t follow my extended family, so I’m safe :)


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