Over the last few months, while taking part of this course I became gradually more aware of how friends and family members use their personal social media channels, in particular Facebook. Although most of them are fairly passive users, posting funny memes or updates on their various daily happenings, I noticed a few using Facebook to aggressively market either themselves or their pet projects / initiatives. Mind you, had I not been studying up on the use of social media I’m not sure any of this would have registered with me beyond vague annoyance, but I’m increasingly struck by how misguided some users are when it comes to Facebook and how they fundamentally misunderstand what Facebook is intended for.
For instance, I have a friend (we’ll name him Anthony here) who I hadn’t spoken to since about 2009 who reached out to me via Facebook a few weeks back. Thinking nothing of it I accepted his friend request, sent the requisite “hi how are you nice to hear from you” email, and promptly relegated him to newsfeed fodder. It’s not that we didn’t get along before, it’s that I hadn’t heard from him in a long time and he no longer lives in the area, so I assumed our interactions would, going forward, be limited to Facebook passivity. However, I noticed Anthony was using Facebook as a marketing tool to establish himself as a motivational speaker. Moreover, Anthony’s primary subject was, in my opinion anyways, rather esoteric: Bringing awareness to the challenges faced by the gay handicapped community in hook-up culture.
With over 5000 friends on Facebook, it was clear Anthony’s message was reaching its intended audience, as well as sex-positive speakers making connections on his page. For all intents and purposes, Anthony was succeeding at branding himself a motivational speaker and representative of the sexually active disabled community. However, it didn’t take long for his message to be lost in a deluge of overposting and towing the line between marking successes and becoming a bragadagio. First, the overposting: On a single day, Anthony would post about 5-6 times, encouraging people to read his latest article on disability sex awareness, or watch a video he’d posted on the subject, or read an article from another press outlet dealing with the subject, etc. Personally, being able-bodied, I was unaware of the specific challenges faced by the community, and read many of the articles with great interest… until I realized that, well, 90% of his social media presence is him pushing his message. There were very little posts that were casual in nature or just discussing something going on in the press or in the world, just the same message being pushed again and again. It wasn’t long before, I’ll admit, I began losing interest in the subject. I had re-connected with Anthony in the hopes of keeping up with his life and activities, but reading about his job on a daily basis was not part of the deal for me, esoteric subject or not.
Further, I began noticing a shift in Anthony’s persona rather quickly. After the first few months of overposting, I started to gleam that Anthony was becoming a person of note within the sex-positive motivational speaker community and was being asked to give speeches at various conferences and participating in media campaigns on the subject. I put aside my annoyance with him aside, which ebbed and flowed depending on his level of output for the week, and celebrated his successes with him, because I was happy for him that he was making a mark in an area that was clearly important to him. After a while, however, came the pictures and videos. He began posting videos and photos of himself at various events speaking on his subject, often in various states of undress and in bondage gear, pushing his message of social acceptance as far and as hard as he could. I was uncomfortable with it myself at this point: Having read his articles with an open mind, I was sensitive to the specific challenges his community faces in this area of life. However, his social media presence had become entirely inappropriate. I work on social media and tend to spend a majority of my day on Facebook and Twitter, and Anthony’s posts were becoming a problem for me: I would scroll through my newsfeed only to see various inappropriate photos and videos of him, and quickly had to unfollow him if only to reduce the amount of due diligence I had to do at work due to his social media use. A few days later, I unceremoniously removed him from my friends list, because I figured if I couldn’t even have him in my newsfeed, then there’s no need for us to stay connected on social media.
Mind you, it wasn’t Anthony I had a problem with, or the subject he was interested in branding himself in. It was his use of social media: If I re-connect with someone over Facebook, I’m not doing so in order to read a barrage of information on someone’s work or their initiatives, I’m in for the personal posts and the images that connect us, that keep us up to date on his each other’s comings and goings, and if we get there, to make plans together. Many of my older friendships have been re-kindled over Facebook since I joined in 2007. Anthony, however, made a fatal mistake on Facebook by insisting we should all be equally involved in a subject he’s passionate about. It’s important to start a conversation about a subject when there is little visibility for it, but raising awareness is different than repeatedly forcing the topic forward. A more even balance of personal / professional posts would have softened the edge, and less inappropriate videos and photos would have made his message easier to digest for the audience he is attempting to connect with (i.e. able-bodied folks who are unaware of those specific challenges by lack of representation). It’s an interesting subject, but like all personal subjects, they exist within a plethora of other considerations as well as the fact that every person has their own passionate beliefs, and recognizes that less is often more. Had Anthony been treading more carefully on social media, I think his message would have registered louder – but by repeatedly pounding the pavement, his message ended up existing in a vacuum.
What about you? Have you experienced a similar situation while re-connecting with an old acquaintance fundamentally misusing social media?