Broken windows in social media

You may be familiar with the broken windows theory, namely how vandalism such as broken windows and graffiti lead to disorder in communities.  Fixing these types of issues restores order to communities.  In society, usually it's institutions and authorities that make something happen.  Naturally, people who live local can step up and get involved too.  (While the correlations supporting the theory have been debated, it's tough to argue that living in a nicer environment is a bad thing.)

In social media, I'm noticing more broken windows appear daily – in a figurative sense.  That is, not like broken functionality, but instead the proliferation of unsolicited commercial content, blatant self promotion, and more savvy spammers.

419 scammers on Facebook.  Human generated comment spam.  Automated direct messages from new Twitter followers.  Emails selling social media certification.  Plagiarism and IP theft.

The "authorities" are doing what they can, e.g. Twitter suspends and Facebook disables suspicious accounts.  And you can report violations, block users, or send a DMCA takedown notice.  But the problem lies in how the windows are breaking – it's wholly intentional with minimal incremental cost and little chance of being caught.  Most of us also participate in social media complementary to a paying job – so monitoring and chasing down violations ends up as Ahab-like vigilantism.

Personally, I engage with a large network and cope by employing an active "ignore" filter.  Some people lock-down to a greater degree and only connect with very small trusted networks.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches.

But regardless of how you participate, isn't there SOMETHING MORE we can do about all of these broken windows?

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  1. This all reminds me of the good old ‘Tipping Point’ by Gladwell which in the offline world performed brilliant if one follows the books theory. The question in the online world remains, if the above mentioned activities always have to be seen in a ‘vandalizing’ context. Maybe it is just pure unsophistication and minor knowledge of how to handle social networks, micro-blogging and content generation properly in a web 2.0 world. A lot of people are still exploring, at least from what I can see in Europe.

  2. Agreed. However, it’s the accessibility of Twitter and Facebook, which we really enjoy and demand, that allows for abuse. It comes with the territory regrettably. The more bad behaviour is curtailed the more our freedoms shrink.

  3. Great Post – I wrote about something similar over at BuzzBuilderz a while back.

    It is intensely frustrating to deal with the infiltration of scammers, phishers and in general people who use the social media space to sell, sell, sell with no regard for the social contract inherent in the space.

    Hopefully, as the paradigm shifts towards social media, these people will realize that the ruling philosophy of Social Media echos the sentiments of the Beatles:

    And in The End
    The Love you take
    Is equal to the Love you make

  4. A whole lot of crap comes in with the tide. It is unfortunate. It happens to every new channel and medium and this is just following in the footsteps of others.

    As you note, the prevalence of junk and fraudulent activities is a simple dynamic of cost – social media channels are not cost prohibitive. Some folks are still buying viagra and fake rolex watches through email spam, so it was only a matter of time until it showed up in other avenues.

  5. Absolutely agree. You can’t really put a limit on what and what cannot be posted yet as we are unsure of the severity of alot of these spam-like postings. Obviously, you weed out the harmful ones and you kind of have to roll with the punches of the obnoxious ones. The minute you start deleneating what can and cannot be posted, people will start to feel embattled, whether there is justification to that feeling or not. Like Anja stated, it comes with the territory and once that territory starts “lockdown”, feelings of e-entrapment begin.

  6. Hello Martin – for the most part, I think a big driver of the issue is unsophistication, using traditional marketing approaches in social media channels. So, perhaps more education is one answer?

  7. Can we point out one area since the emergence of the Internet or email where things have matured so much that spamming is now obsolete? Has anything matured to that level where spam has been conquered? Is never going to happen right, not unless there is some sort of censoring. But if you censor then you will lose the traffic and the participation. So what its going to be? Also, with more enterprise social netwroks popping up in the work place, can you start censoring there? its difficult enough to get people talking during confernce calls but if we started to limit their voices on discussion boards or blogs….

  8. Free stuff is inevitably going to be abused. It’s human nature (esp in capitalistic societies) to take advantage of “free” whether it’s goods, spaces, etc. Sadly one of the best ways around abuses of “free” is creating an aura of exclusivity either through velvet rope communities or by subscription. However, once you move down that road you (and the community) misses out on the opportunity interact with interesting people they may have never met via other venues. One thing I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz around is charging companies for a site license or enterprise agreement to push branded messages out via Twitter and communities. This I think will reduce the spam and crap that we see from companies, but does little for the individual spammer. For the latter, I say we just let the community does what it does best: push up the thought leaders and push out the troublemakers! Good line of thought here Peter…as always.

  9. Can we point out one area since the emergence of the Internet or email where things have matured so much that spamming is now obsolete? Has anything matured to that level where spam has been conquered?

    In my experience, the major blog platforms and gmail have done a good enough job that spam is at best a minor problem now … but that’s only my experience. That said, the ongoing insistence on “marketing” and vying for attention on the Web, more generally, are still a pain in the arse … but there’s no limit on the variability of ways humans can annoy each other, is there ?

  10. Community Moderation and Management will assist in replacing these “Broken windows” and covering up the graffiti before they are seen by the masses. While it may be seen as costly, it should be included in all Community launches.
    Mike P / @nhscooch

  11. I prefer the handle “social media” because no matter where you are coming from it is all about content of some kind serving a purpose to the participant. In this context the question of whether to control or not becomes one of intention of the moderator. And if you accept that creativity and chaos go hand in hand (to some extent) then how much to control or IF to control at all becomes a matter of group size, No? By the time you’ve built a town a sheriff is a forgone conclusion. Then again, small groups are more likely to self organize. It seems to me that when you keep it simple, defined and, let people have a go, that is when the tool is most likely to be productive.

  12. I think most people use an “active ignore” approach, which simply demonstrates that the current tools are used less for participatory conversations than as promotional platforms.

    Permission, privacy, preference — we should demand more of ourselves and of others. But so long as there are VC’s funding pipe dreams, PR flaks chasing ink, and unemployed folks chasing a living, I suspect it will continue.

  13. Edward, I agree with your “active ignore” idea but try this on; Look at how a primary school teacher breaks kids up into small groups of three or four to solve problems or complete tasks often as opposed to letting a group of 30 just go at it. Rather than assume that is just child-like behavior causing this to work better, isn’t the digital environment telling us much the same about adults?
    Now, think about the many freely offered examples about groups of people on the cutting edge of extreme sports. They speak their own language in many cases and are few in number(locally). Social tools in defined groups work really well because they help identify participants quickly. When the chatter stays on point and isn’t just directed purposefully, new, great stuff can happen. If you are selling gear to those people and new ideas are being generated, who cares how it gets used (within reason of course).

  14. I completely agree David with the smaller, self-organizing communities. The point I was on relates to the notion of public-wide-open SM. I believe there’s a quiet movement towards more gated, private communities, organized at the community level. I’m working on one project, school related in fact, that does this. It’s a better model provided one can create an affordable business model.

  15. I think social media is one of the first ways of “human interaction” where mainly because of rising transparency scum in all its kind will be defeated by crowd-control and not by laws.

    For that the protection of the privacy of the single user has to be intertwined with the rising (online) social self-awareness (which is the counterpart of online reputation from the point of view of the user/prosumer him/herself.)

    I am looking forward to carry the reputation built in “smaller, self-organizing communities” into “public-wide-open” SM. Selling “certifakes” of any kind will get more difficult as well as many other fields of “talking without a clue”.

    Separating the wheat from the chaff on a daily bases in your greater (online) social enviroment needs a well-thought and -developed reputation system. It should consist of several aspects like expertise, experience and (community) respect.

    Surely this needs a more open and fair society as we have right now. And still there would be the chance of missing some really good thoughts when trusting to much a single system of proving reputation. Quite often the thoughts and advise of career changer gave me much more value than 10 reports of no-clue-about-reality-management-consultants.

    In the end common sense also works online.

  16. one mans broken windows is another bots creativity…… just deal with it and keep those who would control the internet off our case……..they are ones who are made of PHAIL… especially the corrupt government.

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