Being a Good Citizen Of The Internet: What Would The Internet Be Like If Everyone Behaved Like Me?

This was another one of the blog themes I gave my social media students last week. They tackled it in various ways, but I’d like to expand on where the question comes from.

The root of it is the conversation about ‘marketing’ and ‘promotion’. Ever since MySpace, musicians have been looking for ingenious ways to increase their audience without actually doing any of the tried and tested pre-web stuff (actually making amazing music, doing gigs, contacting media outlets in the hope that they’ll recognise the brilliance of your work and write about you or play you on the radio, Encouraging your existing fans to talk about what you do).

photo by timag on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

As ever, the ‘race to the bottom’ led to a whole new kind of musician spam – blanket messages sent to every Myspace (now Facebook) friend, multiple postings on other people’s pages, imploring friends and strangers to ‘check out my amazing new video on YouTube’ and perhaps the most insidious of all, networks of musicians making a pact to promote each others work, regardless of quality or the degree to which the sharer is actually interested in the shared work. (I’ve written a lot about the nonsense of this kind of reciprocity).

So what happened? Well, Myspace was suddenly populated by a load of musicians who were brazen enough to friend anyone and everyone, who were willing to use paid friend-adding plug-ins that just piled on the friend numbers and at first glance made them look exceedingly popular. What was odd was that many of them had *no* finished music at all. A handful of demo-quality fragments of unfinished tunes on their Myspace player a couple of poorly thought-out tuitional videos on Youtube… The endgame was unclear. Nothing to buy, no gigs to go to, no music to actually share. Just some photos of a person with a bass and sometimes a handful of forthright opinions about music/bass/the world that were of varying degrees of merit. “Likes” had become their own currency. In a world where fame was no longer considered the ‘downside to success’ (as Nik Kershaw once described it), but was now the goal in and of itself, actually making meaningful music was just a distraction. Get on the Friend-adding-train, baby! 

This spilled over into Facebook, though FB’s architecture often made it a bit clearer – musicians who hit their 5000 friend limit in a week or two but whose artist page was in the low hundreds. Again, a couple of demo ideas on Soundcloud and some phone-cam video footage was often the only musical material on display… (as a side-point, there’s been a weird devaluing of the idea of “improvised music” thanks to this phenomenon – ‘here’s just a little improv I did to show you my new pedal’ – rather than improv being a distinct way of producing the best music we possibly can, it’s become what people demoing pedals do who can’t be bothered to write or learn music people would actually want to listen to…)

Further yet, those who are considered in someway ‘taste makers’ get bombarded with Tweets, Facebook wall posts, Page comments, direct messages, FB chat requests… all demanding attention. ‘Here’s my new video! Please hit ‘like’ and post it on your wall!’ – so rarely is it preceded by any other communication, or is any context given, or even any acknowledgement that the person you’re sending this stuff to may not be remotely interested. Or indeed that it would (certainly in my case) be impossible to check out all the stuff that’s pointed at me. I don’t even have time for the stuff that I’m actively interested in, let alone these intrusions. It’s just cut ’n’ paste spamalicious nonsense.

So back to our first question – What’s the endgame? What does this do to the internet?

The evolutionary model at work is the ‘survival of the pushiest’ or the most brazen – the ones who get the most promo are the ones most impervious to the embarrassment of annoying hundreds of disinterested people in the hope that one or two will be kind enough to check out their shit. But as this kind of aggressive, careless promo becomes normalised, the signal to noise ratio becomes unmanageable, and artists just talking about what we do and letting the people who’ve actually chosen to receive our info (via our own FB posts, Tweets, emailing list, website etc) suddenly starts to feel spammy. The more shy musicians start to feel massively self conscious about talking about their work and the rest of us have to deal with the ire of those who feel bombarded with music marketing (I had a really odd exchange with a good friend on FB who complained about me posting too much about my own music on my own FB feed, and then unfriended me, announcing his intention to do so. Clearly not understanding the FB tools that are there to hide posts from certain people, or that the term ‘unfriend’ is horribly pejorative for an action that is really just ‘un-reading’. He chose not to read what I posted, which is an action I whole-heartedly endorse (I really don’t want people reading my music updates who don’t want to see them – life’s hard enough without malcontents complaining about things they don’t need to see anyway).

So the root of the question, and the solution to the problem is, I suggest, in the notion of being a good citizen of the Internet. I’m a huge advocate of people talking about the music they love, getting excited about it, sharing links to it. It then stands to reason that what we need to do as artists is make our art and the story around it sharable, to ourselves be beacons of great art, sharing the best of what our peers and heroes have to offer, and educating our audience – via our example, permission and encouragement – in how to spread the word about meaningful art without getting bogged down in spam.

So, time to have a think, what would the internet be like if everyone (or even just all musicians) behaved like you? Would it be a better or worse place? Are you part of the spam problem or part of the post-spam solution?

2 Replies to “Being a Good Citizen Of The Internet: What Would The Internet Be Like If Everyone Behaved Like Me?”

  1. If everyone on the internet behaved like me, I wouldn’t feel like I needed to become part of the spam problem. 🙂

    What I mean is that I’m a very shy person — I struggle to leave comments on blog posts I enjoy because I get super self-conscious. For example, I enjoyed your “guilty pleasures” post and started writing a comment while I was at work, but I was distracted and never finished it. I may go back and comment, but even considering it I feel incredibly spammy (too many comments in one day! ahhhh).

    When I say I feel like I need to become part of the problem, it’s because on the internet, I’m competing for the attention of my closest friends. How do I cut through the noise? I could email people (never en masse, at least until I get an opt-in mailing list setup), but when I do that I feel like I’m violating the terms of our friendship. The alternative is through social media, where most people are in perpetual media-blitz mode.

    I don’t want to add to the noise. I’m fine with letting my Twitter account sit for a few days at a time if I don’t have anything to add to the conversation. I’ll probably delete my Facebook page in the near future, since I don’t particularly enjoy using it.

    But then… how do I connect with people? I’m a shy dude. But! If everyone on the internet behaved like me, they’d all be a lot nicer and none of us would have to worry about getting cursed out by trolls and maybe we’d all join forums.

    I’m going to cut myself off here because I’m still thinking and I don’t want my hands to get too far ahead of my brain.

    Thanks for the great post!

  2. I think I’ve heard you talk a bit about this concept before, Steve, and as such I try to be mindful during my decision-making process as a citizen of the web. I like to imagine that if the behavior of others reflected my own, the internet would be a great place.

    As an artist I share a blend of info about my own work, commentary on others’ art that’s moved me, and sometimes a creative or entertaining thought I happen to have. When I decide to share or publicly comment on someone else’s art, it’s usually because that particular piece has thematic/aesthetic connections to my own work, has directly inspired/informed me in the past, or is truly moving me so powerfully at this moment that I can’t bear not to share it!

    I enjoy a diverse spectrum of art, but I don’t simply share anything that gave me positive feels–it has to be something with meaningful connections to my audience or my own artistic identity. Similarly, though I have a lot of creative friends endeavors I’m very keen to encourage, I don’t share their work to my own audience unless I’m truly moved to do so by any of the above reasons. A supportive message from me to them (vs a public re-posting) is most appropriate here.

    As an individual in a more personal social sphere, I share a lot of the things that I don’t feel would be appropriate in my artistic sphere: political/socially progressive petitions & information, photos of my pets or meals I’m quite proud to have prepared, etc… I also mix in some of the things I would/do share via my artistic identity, when I feel the content is broad enough in its appeal. But I also make a point to not push my own music to all the people I’m connected with personally.

    When I first started out as a musician, I posted my releases to my personal Facebook to let all my friends know what I was up to. At this point all my friends who are actively interested in my art have already chosen to follow my artist pages, so I would only feel spammy if I posted the same content about my own work to my personal profile. My extended family and old high school friends don’t need to know that I’m having a sale on cassettes or releasing a new EP next week.

    The inverse of this is that I don’t need to know about the weekend plans of that girl I had math class with, so I use the Facebook features you’ve mentioned to hide irrelevant info from my news feed. (Likewise, I don’t follow people on Twitter or tumblr unless I’m genuinely interested in reading their posts.) Most of the time I try not to start arguments with people who post content that rubs me the wrong way, even if I feel they’re being ignorant or inconsiderate; I save that emotional energy for actively engaging with the people who are doing things I really like and want to see more of. 🙂

    That means I do my best to reflect and respond thoughtfully to the people who do post insightful, engaging, and/or inspiring content. This absurdly lengthy comment on your blog should serve as some evidence. 🙂

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