Our Morals And Ethics Are Changing (For The Worse) In The Social Age

I don’t know about you but a recent trend has me frustrated.  At a time the world is getting more “social” it is seems to be getting less nice.   In fact, it is getting down right rude and it’s starting to get to me big time.

Take the 140 character tweet.  When read literally and out loud you will realize comes out like someone is shouting at the top of their lungs directly at you, in short bursts of random words lacking any context or relevance.  Now multiply that by millions of people and we have become a society simply trying to shout the loudest at each other’s faces.

More recently, observing activity on social media platforms Facebook and Twitter during tragedies such as the Boston Marathon Bombing can be a crash course in sociology.   Although the actions of the accused were absolutely terrible, what was tweeted and typed into those message boxes by millions of people and sent out to the worldwide public was arguably just as bad.  Realizing how crude the human race has become to each other has me perplexed.  Racism, hatred, blaming innocent people, spreading images of innocent people and publicly accusing them of an international war crime.  It’s all ridiculous.

I am not talking about what people were saying about the eventual caught suspects.  I am talking about tweets aimed at others on the periphery or even random twitter users sending tweets about what happened.  What frightens me the most is how quickly we are becoming desensitized to how absurd and rude we are becoming.

I do see the value in social technologies and believe there are many ways and means for people to use them in socially positive manners.  The difference is when mob mentality takes over and people feel as if their single tweet – no matter the content – doesn’t really matter in the large social universe.

Yet it does.

There’s a certain snowball effect most people seem oblivious to when they hastily type 140 characters and absentmindedly push send.  When other users retweet their factually inaccurate or hate filled tweets to thousands of others, and then they retweet to thousands of others, things get out of hand very quickly.  This is how hatred, fear and mistreatment of others runs ramped on the social web.

I couldn’t imagine this stuff happening 20 years ago when we would have had to vocally say it out loud in pubic.  We have laws and social norms for that kind of stuff.

All this because we are able to comfortably tweet or share something from the confines of our phone or PC keyboard.  And then not having to be held accountable for it.

I have also noticed the growing trend of people simply not returning (sent to a real person) emails, be it a business contact or a even a potential new employer.  I actually read a few days ago “the non-returned email is the new no”.

To me, this is inexcusable and rude.  It’s as if you asked someone a question to their face and they simply did nothing, or even walked away.

How would you feel then?

I literally had a recruiter recently reschedule a phone call with me 3 different times, and on the 4th time she simply didn’t call at the time we had eventually decided on.   She then emailed her “apology” a week later probably thinking nothing out of the ordinary.  I now have a “new level of respect” for the Seattle based, publicly traded technology company – and it’s not positive.

Yes, I understand we all are drowning in a sea of emails.  I get it.  But I have – and will continue – to make it a high priority to get back to people when they email me.  It’s simply common courtesy and I have learned it actually speaks volumes about a person’s morals and ethics.

Think not?  I’ll give you a story.

Early on in my experience as CEO I had the opportunity to be introduced to Brad Feld, one of the world’s highest regarded VC’s.  I read somewhere about his respectfulness and how he is quick to respond to emails, even if to just say no.  Well, after the email intro from the mutual contact I responded with a short, quick pitch about Seconds.

Remember Brad is in high demand, on the board of many different companies and very well known.  He could have simply let it slip through the cracks and “oops, forgot” about that random person.

Literally 5 minutes later I receive an response from Brad stating unfortunately Seconds was not within their portfolio focus and was passing on the opportunity.  This had to take a total of 30 secs – 1 minute for him to respond.  I thanked him and said I appreciated the timely response.

I now hold Brad in very high regard (as do thousands of others apparently for obvious reasons) and will tell anyone who will listen how solid of person he is.  And to think I don’t even know him personally?

You know what I think about all the others who don’t get back to me or responded WAY late?  Nope, I don’t forget.  They lost a notch of respect in my book and I will always think about how they treated me in that specific instance.

A courteous and timely response goes a long way with people, even when its to simply say “no”.  A simple refrain or just thinking twice about retweeting or liking something that might be hurtful to another person is huge when you think about how many of your followers might quickly retweet your comment as well.

The snowball (virality) effect of social media is a double edge sword, make sure you are using the proper edge to carefully treat people the morally and ethically right* way.

*what’s morally and ethically “right” you say?  The way in which you would want others to do unto you probably is the way you should do unto others.

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