A sad episode unfolded last night on the Meetup page for an upcoming Third Tuesday Vancouver event that left me distressed over the health of our aspirations for social media: openness, discussion, plurality; you know, the good stuff about the stuff we’re trying to build and use.
Here’s how the panel was described:
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been notorious for its tight grip over media coverage in past years. The Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, dubbed by some as the “Twitter Games”, have been a dramatic departure, changing the way we experience large-scale events across the globe.
Rebecca Bolwitt, John Biehler and Kris Krug, leaders in the social media coverage of the 2010 Games, join us for our panel on how social media has changed the Olympics and the future of citizen journalism.
The bios of each centred on their work, and were vague enough they could be read them as social media professionals to different degrees. From that, the first comment suggested the panel was lacking representation of someone working in journalism or independent media that were also documenting the games.
The responses made it clear that the panel or the frame of the discussion were not changing. Then things went off the rails when questions about overlap between citizen journalism and social media consulting were taken as attacks on panelist integrity. My own two comments, for the record, now appear as Former Member; at Meetup, you lose the privilege of identity when you leave the group. That gripe aside, I do recommend investing in a 5-minute read of the comments.
Things quickly unwound into defensive postures that never became outright nasty, but culminated in organizers rejecting an offer of panel participation and asking the commenter to take his thoughts elsewhere. That’s too bad, because he writes in-depth on the very subject at hand and participates to good ends in comment-based discussion, even with dissenters.
But it wasn’t to be. Despite Kris Krug’s solo attempt to build a bridge to a positive outcome, things hit a dead end with an organizer’s post:
Tobias: This has become tiresome. If you’d like to continue this discussion, you have a blog. Or you can attend the event. Wait, you likely won’t because you don’t appreciate the direction and don’t approve of the choice of panelists. And you don’t intend to come from Whistler.
Followed by shortly by:
…I myself have enjoyed following this discussion, however there are a lot of people unwittingly subscribed by email to this thread and find this tiresome….
No such comments were posted by the unwitting recipients, so who knows where that insight came from, but it helped make any further discussion unpalatable.
This is distressing. These channels are supposed to enable communication, but they can easily become echo-chambers of agreement that set us up for bad reactions to dissenting opinion. I’ve long believed that linear comment forms do little to facilitate online discussion, and Meetup’s are about as bad as they get.
But when we take questions about commercial orientation personally, when ambiguous bios go un-edited to clarify the positions of participants, when an offer to participate is sarcastically rejected and attempts to keep a discussion going are called ‘tiresome’ by an organizer, we can’t entirely blame the medium. We have to see that we have momentarily given up on communication and slipped into broadcast. And that’s not healthy.