How It’s _Not_ Done: Avoid Creepiness

As I’ve previously mentioned I’ve been in e-communities in one form or another for a very long time (way before it was social media, before the Internet was a household word and in everyone’s household and pocket).

Sadly, there’s been one recurrent theme — a noticeable percentage of the male of the species who play in online communities are socially inept or at least project that image online (some intentionally, some not).  And rather than take advantage of this new medium to deal with what might simply be awkwardness when put on the spot IRL, frequently these new platforms seem to make the problem worse.  Why does it make the problem worse?  Not quite sure, I have some theories, but putting them out here right now won’t really advance the discussion.

Instead, some tips on how not to be a stalker/creepy online (these are mostly Twitter based as it’s really one of the speediest interactive systems and prone to such odd behaviour since the friend/follow system can run unilaterally (i.e., no acceptance is necessary))….

  • Unless you’re a celebrity, and need to keep a low profile, keep the conversation public unless there’s a reason to take it private.
    • In the case of Twitter (which I consider the biggest cocktail party / water cooler around) analogize the situation – if you’re in a group discussion at a cocktail party do you pull someone aside to privately ask them about puppies?  No – it’s either weird because you’ve upped the intimacy quotient by pulling them aside and/or it’s weird because you brought up puppies.  Either way it’s weird.  If you want to engage with someone do it naturally stay topical, stay in the same format unless really necessary.
  • Don’t respond to something that’s hours old.  With minor exception an hours old tweet is likely not on your timeline.  That you saw it means you were looking for it.  If it’s on a subject of interest (e.g. you were looking for information on a certain product) that makes sense.  If it just so happens you’re stalking someone’s profile and responding to everything of interest – that’s creepy.  Unless it’s particularly compelling, let an hours old tweet stay in the archives.   There are some exceptions of course –
    • Visiting a friend’s page occasionally makes sense to see if they changed their bios, background, opened up a blog, etc.  If it’s happening everyday — well, then not so much.
    • The great twitter list – it’s now easier than ever to filter to certain people’s content.  I’ve got a PRBC list so I can see what the founding members are talking about with ease, whether on my phone or on my PC.   I’ve also spent hours talking and emailing with the ‘family’ so if I asked about a tweet that’s days old none of them would likely flinch. But otherwise (and even with the lists) it’s weird.
  • Think & Use Google.  If someone asks something geographically based – don’t ask them where they are unless they don’t have it listed in their profile (which yes, requires visiting their profile).  If they say they’re doing something or going to an event – google it.  Don’t ask them to explain in 140 characters.  It’s an odd combination of trying too hard (I want to know) and not hard enough (I only want to know if you’ll tell me).  Let it be.  And if someone is actually seeking info (“Looking for a restaurant that serves___”) either RT it, provide an answer, or stay quiet (this assumes you’re only acquaintances), a mini Q&A at this point will likely only serve to be a hassle.
  • Have a profile that says something. Even if it’s a dodge or says you aren’t disclosing for some reason (like mine) at least give your industry or your purpose for being here.  Having nothing or just a quote (even a really good one) makes it hard to decide if you’re being inquisitive because you’re in the same field or share a hobby or you’re being creepy and wearing the digital equivalent of a hoodie to stay in the shadows.  [Yes, irony noted]

This is certainly not a scientific list, comprehensive, or necessarily accurate.  And I’m sure I’ll get hate comments (bring it!) but given the murmurings I’ve heard from some trusted friends, twitter stalkers are getting to be even more of a bother and in our ‘play nice’ world no one wants to say ‘Hey!  Bugger off, you’re creepin’ me out” whereas such a message would be easy to send in real life (“Oh, would you excuse me, I have to take this call…somewhere far away.”)

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