You know how some people go nuts when they’re in a car? There’s something about the protective casing of a vehicle which gives a diminutive, balding, middle aged business man the confidence to scream abuse and make gestures of violence in my rear view mirror if I haven’t moved off at the lights within half a second. I worry about these people. Largely because there’s no way they would do that face to face. If I bumped into them on a street I’m confident they would apologise politely. After you, no after you. What happens when they get into a car?
I was pointed to some posts last week on one of the trade press websites, which included some pretty nasty and insulting comments. Narrow that down if you can. It occurs to me that in the world of social media we are creating an environment where some people feel invincible and behave in a similar way to the raging idiots of the roads. It’s like Lord of the Flies, where a group of schoolchildren decend into brutal savagery once they put on tribal face paint. Faces hidden behind a mask, they can act out any dark impulse, even murder.
We’ve all experienced people who are a lot braver sat behind a laptop firing out emails, than they are face to face. For some reason I find people on Twitter generally considerate and reasonable. There’s something about the direct and personal nature of it which gets close to face-to-face contact. Not so elsewhere. Once someone puts an idea onto a website it seems fair game for the kind of personal abuse reserved usually for late night callers to premium phone lines. Putting an idea onto a page leaves sufficient distance between author and idea to encourage horrific and cruel personal attacks. The kind exhibited by aggressive drivers and children wearing war paint. I can only assume that the ability to hide behind an unfunny moniker (often worse than ‘anonymous’), or the feeling of invincible unaccountability which some people clearly feel when posting, is responsible for this.
Annoyingly, these people are described as ‘bloggers’, or ‘characters in the industry’. They aren’t either. Almost every post follows a familiar, envy soaked thread. It usually takes one of two forms:
Impotence – someone else has something I don’t have, so I must devalue them or it. The article reminds me that I’m not important any more.
Narcissism – someone has said something, this is an opportunity to talk about me and my business, regardless of the point being made or the fact that nobody asked me about it.
I can’t ever recall being offended by anyone’s opinion. It’s the uncontrollable need to be offensive to other people which I find objectionable.
The sad truth is that we present ourselves as an industry of angry drivers and petulant schoolchildren because of this. The FSA read these comments. Other professions read these comments. MPs are sent letters by these people. We’re rapidly becoming a parody of ourselves and wonder why we aren’t taken seriously. It’s like watching an episode of Brasseye or reading The Onion some days.
I think it will correct itself in due course, the democratisation of communication is a good thing. I can’t help but think financial services is a a place with a lot of anxiety and very little leadership right now.
That’s a real melting pot for trouble.
Especially when you’re stuck on an island, waiting for the adults to turn up.