In Celebrity Syndrome, the people who achieve success or notoriety lose the ability to see themselves as ‘regular’ folks, subject to the same social norms and laws of gravity as the rest of us.
The problem with getting cured is that reality checks at the top are hard to come by. When you have status and power, your world is full of fans, sycophants, power-seekers, and people on your payroll who reflect back the image that you want to see. It’s pretty hard to get real information–even if you actually wanted it-which most don’t. And it’s pretty easy to have sense of immunity and the ability to rationalize your behavior.
Hubris, along with a dose of entitlement, is not very attractive–let’s face it. But it used to be much easier to keep that kind of unpleasantness under wraps. Until now. Social media has changed all that. We can communicate anything, anytime, anywhere and, most importantly, with anyone. It’s pretty much summed up by the built-in first post on a WordPress blog: “Hello, world!”
In a socially networked society, it’s hard to keep secrets, especially when you’ve achieved a level of status that puts you on other people’s radar. There is no such thing as controlling a message whether you’re a company, brand, government, or a Weiner. If the Defense Department and the CIA can’t do it, what was Weiner thinking?
We have seen other examples of the inappropriate use of social media technologies. The surprising thing is that people are surprised–not about the behaviors, which is another problem altogether–but about the way they are uncovered. These are new and powerful technologies. They have redefined communication. Information travels with a continuing ripple effect, like pebbles continually dropped in a pond every time the information hits a new spot. This environment really thwarts the old “cover-up” and “spin” mentality. Whoever ignores the power of networked communications and social capital, does so at his peril.
Here are six lessons you can learn from Weiner’s experience:
1. Learn how the technology works BEFORE you use it. We don’t hand our kids the car keys and say, “give it a go!” We teach them. The technology changes have come fast, but lack of knowledge is no excuse online anymore than it is on the highway. This is serious stuff and can have huge real world implications. (Congress got a wake-up call, based on the numbers from Tweetcongress.org showing Twitter use down 28% since “Weinergate.” Story and wonderful graphic on Media Bistro.)
2. Social media is the new elevator. You never know who may be listening to your conversations.
3. The social media environment exposes liars and cheats. Don’t say you didn’t do something if you did. Your only hope is to come clean (or better yet, be clean in the first place.) Information and pictures are permanent and searchable once they hit the web.
4. Social networks redefine privacy. Hiding doesn’t work.
5. Social media demands transparency. While we present different parts of ourselves in different environments, just like we dress differently when we go to parties compared to gardening, credibility comes from coherence.
I suppose a higher-level question is why we tolerate and even overlook such behaviors in our elected officials and heads of industry. It would seem that if someone were unable to exercise good judgment in his/her personal life, he/she wouldn’t stand a fighting chance in tough decisions or in the face of a powerful lobbyist. It certainly isn’t worth a dime of taxpayer dollars to prove there’s an ethical issue around Weiner-I mean really. That’s just an insult to our intelligence. This leads me to the final Weiner lesson:
6. Social media shifts power in society. The same crowd power that propelled Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber to the top of the Forbes celebrity power list also allowed the plight of a Tunisian fruit vendor to be seen by the world, toppled a government in Egypt. and exposed (no pun intended) Weiner’s indiscretions. If there’s anything we’ve learned from the last year, it’s that we can have a voice and make change happen if we all Tweet together.
Social media amplifies our voice. We can demand a more responsible (in all senses of the word) government and society whether it’s using votes, Tweets, dollars, or using the TV remote. After all, we really are in this together.