Social Media Examiner Defends Their Own Inaccurate Content

Last week, I presented at Search Engine Strategies Toronto on the intersection of PR, marketing and social media.  After my session, a woman from the audience came up to introduce herself:  she was  a writer for Social Media Examiner (and extremely pleasant to speak with).  We talked a bit about the industry and about blogging in general.  To which she remarked I had actually upset some people over at Social Media Examiner from my response to their post on social media addiction.

To clarify:  a social media blog was not pleased that another blogger disagreed with them (that’s kind of how the blogosphere works).  The nature of digital publishing means others will not always agree, and dissonance is a great thing:  it balances the social web.

Anyway, you can click the link above if you weren’t around to read that post, but to sum up:  I made an argument why the idea of “social media addiction” didn’t make sense, and that Social Media Examiner was propagating misinformation at best, harming those with real problems at worst.  I also left a comment on the original thread linking back to my argument.  I wrote:

SME – shame on you to publicize such misinformation. It’s not only wrong to falsely classify this as addiction, it potentially hurts those with real problems by highlighting symptoms and not actual causes of mental disorders. More here: http://bit.ly/9pAu7B

I’m usually good about following blog conversations, but had never checked up on this comment.  However, after the conference and my discussion with the Social Media Examiner writer I was curious to see if that conversation went anywhere.  So upon revisiting the thread, I saw a comment left by Michael Stelzner, founder of the site.

Let’s go through it bit by bit as it’s worth some responses:

Hi Adam,

I read your article and you make some good points. But come on, lighten up a little bit.

First up, a piece of advice to digital PR pros out there – never tell a blogger to “lighten up a little bit.”  This is probably one of the worst ways you could respond to someone.

I think it’s pretty ironic that Michael writes this when his own blog Social Media Examiner is about sharing tips on achieving success in social media.  When I posted something critical about Mashable, what happened?  Their CEO, Pete Cashmore, came and responded with something constructive and positive. He didn’t tell me to lighten up – in fact he thanked me for my comment.  What was the outcome?  Mashable as a brand earned a constructive post from me.  See how that worked?  I would recommend you follow Pete’s lead – you can easily warm over a blogger by emphasizing with them rather than telling them to “lighten up.”

There is no sham in declaring that perhaps many people are addicted to social media in an unhealthy way. In fact many people self declare themselves addicted to social media (many in response to this article on our Fanpage and Twitter).

Again, it’s a symptom, not a cause.  If people are truly overusing social media, video games, or any technology to the point it is ruining other aspects of their life, it is potentially symptomatic of a larger, serious issue and they should get help.  It is not social media that is the problem, it is an underlying mental issue.  Todd Essig, Ph.D. over on Psychology Today articulates it clearly:  Caught in the web? You need help, not labels.

This has been extensively written about for more than a year. Here are a few examples:
http://www.socialtimes.com/2010/03/fight-social…
http://mashable.com/2008/12/06/facebook-addict-2/
http://socialnewswatch.com/social-media-addiction/

Michael lists examples as stories from Social Times, Mashable and Social News Watch to try and provide proof points for his argument.  Except…not a single one of these sites are credible sources on addiction.  Neither is Social Media Examiner.  They are all sources on social media and are in no way qualified to talk about addiction or other psychological disorders and expect to be taken seriously.

Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote a year ago for MarketingProfs on the dark side of Twitter:

“Twitter Crack: Yes, It’s Addictive

With the slowing economy, people with a little time on their hands are finding Twitter a great discovery tool—and a great big addiction.

Marketing consultant Rickey Gold explained: ‘I spent way too much time exploring and tweeting. I was becoming addicted to Twitter and not focusing on what I needed to do. I got behind on client projects; something I never do and something no business owner should ever do!'”

I don’t see how this adds to Micheal’s case that social media addiction is an accurate label.  In fact, I think it makes a good point why it’s absurd.  Marketing consultant Rickey Gold saying he’s “addicted to Twitter” and “got behind on client projects” is a cop-out.  After reading this anecdote, it sounds to me like Rickey Gold is procrastinating rather than being “addicted to social media.”  There are countless items that could distract a business owner every day, far more than just Twitter or social media as a whole.  To any business owner, it should be clear he’s making excuses and likely has some larger issue than the symptom of wasting time in Twitter.

The last counter point could be my favorite:

The high number of views on this YouTube parody on social media addiction confirms many people can relate with it:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5TI3gzx3JA

According to Michael,  a high number of views on a YouTube video parody “confirms many people can relate with it.”  Let me also highlight this video was produced by Sony to sell more laptops.  So this video:

…along with its view count, correlates that social media addiction should be given legitimacy how exactly?  Maybe Sony can chime in?

I’m unsure what scientific conclusion you could draw between those two things.

For a disorder to be given legitimacy by the psychological community, it must undergo vigorous testing by those in the field over statistically relevant sample sets.  Far more in depth than any of the studies done by companies trying to grab press or further a motive by conducting shallow surveys (and were successfully published on sites like Social Media Examiner).  As an aside, most social media publications (not just SME) are far too quick to grab any data handed to them and publish it at an attempt at building their own authority.  Sadly, it usually works because most people don’t question the legitimacy of data sources – but you should.

Overall, our society has an addiction to mislabeling everything an addiction without really understanding what the term means.