Is your social media voice infiltrating the real world? The answer, of course, is yes. It has been for quite a while. However, to what extent has it done so? I’ll explain my curiosity with the not-so-recent phenomenon of ‘The Social Media Voice’ – and its awesome (yet terrifying) power that we all have the capability of harnessing.
A while ago, on a bus, I saw a young girl complaining to her mother and a friend that she had proof that her boyfriend was going off her. ‘I posted a status about our favourite song on Facebook and Twitter,’ she began, ‘and he hasn’t liked, retweeted or commented on either site. I know he’s on there all day. He’s losing interest.’ The girl’s mother looked a little bewildered. ‘It doesn’t mean he’s gone off you,’ she replied confidently. ‘It’s just social media – it’s not the real world. You’re reading too much into this; you can’t gauge a person’s mood just by how they behave using a website.’ However, the friend stayed quiet. Perhaps out of not wishing to get involved in the debate – perhaps out of knowing that, whether for better or worse, the way we communicate online does translate to the real world now. It’s just having the sophistication to interpret this new, silent, deafening language that some of us lack.
If you think I’m being overly-dramatic, think again. I have been at two social functions within the last year where people locked horns over something that was said online, or bonded with each other because of a previous interaction. It’s about time we stopped thinking social media was the ‘light, responsibility-free’ version of ourselves – and is in no way related to a person sitting behind a screen.
Is this screen-based communication a good thing? I’m inclined to say yes. I think developing new ways of showing praise, sincerity and kindness (and, also, disgust and disagreement) are important. I’ll concur that ignoring an enthusiastic, tagged status update isn’t quite the same as blanking someone openly at a party, but it packs the same burn, as both methods of humiliation are public. And why not? People, as a whole, aren’t ‘nice’ – why should we expect the internet to be the same? If you want a world filled with fawning, saccharine platitudes, join a hippie forum. Or befriend Paris Hilton. Either will do.
Another example of ‘The Social Media Voice’ is to witness the power of complaint. If you’re ever bored on a Saturday, try this. Phone up a large company, and complain loudly. They’ll either hang up on you, put you on hold, or endlessly refer you to the wrong people. Now, stand outside one of their stores and bellow about how they’ve let you down. That won’t work either – if the staff don’t stop you, the police will. Now – finally – try having a good old whinge on Twitter or Facebook, tagging the company in your posts. Witness the speed at which they contact you, and the docile apologies they offer! Marvel at their attempts to ‘take the conversation offline’ and agree with your side of the story! Is it magic? No. It’s just that Twitter, Facebook et al are the silent platforms that ensure hundreds, thousands – potentially millions of people hear what you have to say.
We are becoming increasingly digitised. We tweet during adbreaks, we feel lost without our phones, we stalk the objects of our affection on Google+, and we know it’s a social slur if we don’t get a Facebook invite to the big party. So don’t fight it – embrace it, and be wary of anyone who believes that what goes on on social media won’t resonate offline. It can, it has, and it will – so as long as you remember your manners and have strong sources to back up any opinions you might have, go forth and speak your mind.