Lately I’ve become consumed with a topic I see as an inevitable trend in social software and digital identity on the Internet: the currency of integrity and goodness.
First, I thank my colleague Fred for unknowingly interjecting goodness into my ponderance of the notion since my original focus was simply integrity. The fact is, a person can be honestly, wholly and consistently bad yet still have integrity.
Lately social media has become, in my opinion, obsessed with online influence and predominance. Sites like Twinfluence that measure things such as reach, velocity and social capital are amusing to me if only because I look at the lists and think “so what?” Take for example the Twitterer who at this time has the *most (based on the site’s calculation) Reach, the number of followers a Twitterer has (first-order followers), plus all of their followers (second-order followers). At this time, it is Scot McKay, self-described dating coach, author, podcaster, firestarter, karaoke hack, Dannie and Micky-Mac’s dad and @emilymckay’s knight in shining Under Armour. If Scot McKay says the milk section of the grocery store is the best place to meet a potential dating interest, do people flock there? (PLEASE NOTE: I do not know or follow Scot McKay and to my knowledge he did not tweet this).
I don’t find number of followers interesting. A person can be a celebrity, make a lot of noise, but not get people to act. Influence is the ability to affect a person, thing, or course of events and I’m more interested in the integrity of a person and his or her motivations for doing what they do. I’m more interested in people like Laura Fitton (@pistachio in Twitter) who, when she asks her readers/followers to support a cause she is passionate about, they contribute.
As more and more light has been shed on economic/financial power players like the Bernie Madoffs, Phil Gramms and Allen Stanfords of the world, I’ve been contemplating the price society pays for a lack of integrity and goodness. This weekend I attended several sessions at Transparency Camp in DC and I found two sessions extremely interesting: one on Social Network Analysis by Valdis Krebs, Erin Kenneally and JC Hertz and the other by Kevin Connor, a developer of LittleSis.org, a site that helps spot the symptoms of corruption and cronyism in the political process and promotes government and corporate accountability. I think we will be seeing a trend of companies, organizations and citizens taking a greater interest in how much integrity a person or entity has and the relative “goodness” of their pursuits since the current trajectory of social transparency means it will be more and more difficult to “behave badly” without folks knowing about it. The price of things such as blind greed or even prejudice might get significantly more expensive. This could benefit societies at large since the culmination of an individual’s lack of integrity and solely self-motivated pursuits has the ability to hurt the greater good. Take for example former executive director of the CIA, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo who had a record of misconduct that stretched over 20 years. When the public reads stories like this, I guarantee his association with the agency does not go unnoticed and very likely denigrates the integrity of the agency as a whole.
People are social creatures. We like to conform, as shown by studies like the Asch conformity experiments, a series of studies published in the 1950s that demonstrated the power of conformity in groups. The danger in this lies in the fact that just as quickly as something or someone can become popular, the reverse is true and if you look at social markets in the same light as financial ones, then the predisposition towards large “unexpected” fluctations should hold true. For this reason, I think we’ll start seeing people and entities question their associations with more rigor than in the past, or potentially pay a price.