New technology often seems to take a while for us to work out how to fit new cultural practices around it. I suspect that social networking fits the norm in that regard. Human beings have been networking in forest, fields, villages and cities for aeons – but it is only very recently that we have begun to do so mediated by computers and the internet.
There are usually strongly defined customs in most parts of the world about how to network socially in real life. It is a bit like dancing, the rules are well known and everybody in a group just knows and follows them. Another example of this are the websites that provide guidance on how to socialise in foreign lands when travelling on business.
However, with online social networking the definition of cultural norms is still a work in progress. And some of the cultural norms that are still evolving in relation to this include:
- boundaries between public & private or between work & personal
- how and when to initiate, accept or reject contact
- how to terminate contact when relationships breakdown
- assuring against negative behaviours like stalking and abuse
Some individuals are creating their own rules for online behaviour – one of my simple ones is not to say anything to someone online that I would not say to their face in real life. But the group norms are more of a challenge. For a start we are often talking about global communities with people from many different national cultures and races.
There are long standing examples of well self-regulated online communities – especially in the area of online games such as WoW. And we are also seeing the evolution of new roles, such as community Moderators or Managers, to help coordinate community activities and relations.
We know that, as with all human activity, group norms for social networking will emerge and be accepted (or rebelled against). It is the interim period, in which there is lack of clarity, that we’ll see people losing their jobs because of things like photos on Facebook or comments on Twitter.
Here are some other interesting discussions on this topic:
The rules of social media engagement: All of them.
Why Must We Obey Social Media Rules?
What Are The Unspoken Rules of Social Networks?
The Unwritten Rules of Social Networking
Proposed Rules of Engagement for the Social Network