One of the more important aspects of social media is the emphasis on user generated content that blends with community discourse. As people have noted, many comments are negative. Some of the comments are downright scathing. As such, many users in social networks tread carefully, and I really cannot blame them. Whereas some of us are so much less anonymous than many commenters, we’re bound to feel vulnerable since nearly all of our cards are on the table.
There’s also the element of being able to vote comments up (for agreement) or down (for disagreement). Many community-based sites operate in this way (and for the sites that don’t, I am often compelled to search for a + sign or a thumbs up sign so that I can vote my approval). A few weeks ago, a user contributed to a respected blog with a comment that said that giving a thumbs down is negative and reflects a natural homogeneity within the specific community. The comment in question was critical of a blog post but clearly lacked sufficient information in its criticism, if only to say that the commenter did not enjoy the post by the poster. This is fine, and in general, criticism is quite valuable, but criticism needs to be backed up.
That brings me to an important path of social media that many people, including myself, have been afraid to tread upon. Why be different if your comments, and the frightening reaction, can stab you in the back? The person who wrote the criticism in the blog post was not afraid to do so, but someone else was offended by the comment’s 8 negative votes. Therefore, is it bad to react negatively within social media sites? Are negative votes a bad thing? Should you be afraid to speak up for fear that you may be treated too harshly?
I’d say that if you’re full of self-doubt, it’s important to recognize that while social media is partially of our own creation, we can’t predict everyone else’s reaction. The positives and the negatives combined produce social media. Challenging responses are typically welcome by even people who disagree as long as the criticism is not unfounded (and lacking of substance). That said, even though I personally have felt afraid to voice my strong opinions, I’ve learned from my actions. For the most part, I’m ready to take the plunge as long as there’s moral support, and there is in this community.
Bear in mind that your comments and posts make an impression on your readers. You need to be careful when it comes to making typographical mistakes, for example, because if you leave a sour taste in someone else’s mouth, you’ll get voted down. At the end of the day, for the particular comment in question, there were clearly other factors in play.
Before I wrote my post about downsides to social media (as a top submitter of Digg), I had my doubts. My open letter to Kevin Rose was well-received among my peers and I made some new friends. Yet there were people who disagreed with my statements, and I was initially afraid to give another controversial opinion. However, in the end, I realized that all of the criticism can help me grow and continue to improve.
The bottom line is that social media is an ongoing dialogue and requires more than just interaction. It requires thick skin, too. You should never be afraid to grow, nor should you give into peer pressure and refuse to conform. You won’t please everyone, but you’ll gain a lot of respect among those you do satisfy. If you’re blogging (and leaving comments open), it’s probably because you want to specifically engage in the discourse, so use it to your benefit and for personal improvement.
Don’t let social media and the anonymous voices get you down. Take criticisms with stride and use them to learn and to mature.