Social Media – in the form we know and love it now – is nearly ten years old, and in that time our use of platforms like Facebook and Twitter has matured somewhat. We no longer make so many of those rookie mistakes – like egg profile pictures, posts about how we don't quite understand how this works, and most deadly of all, asking people to follow us.
While most of us don't commit those errors these days though, a new set of social media crimes has emerged. They're more nuanced, but they're still ways in which we can drive each other mad online.
With tongue firmly in cheek then, and enough self-awareness to realise I've transgressed in almost every way listed below, may I present my list of seven deadly social media sins.
Sin #1: Content thievery
It's a bizarre but increasingly common practice: taking viral content you've seen elsewhere and reposting it without crediting the original source. You think: everyone will visit my website and share my name, and they might even think I created this content myself! Everyone else thinks: what a wally.
How to avoid it: Be sweet – retweet. Or at least take a moment to credit your source.
Sin #2: Hashtag abuse
This is perhaps the most common and least deadly of all social media sins, but it's guaranteed to irritate the Google glasses off of most Internet geeks. The hashtag is intended – originally on Twitter but now on Facebook too – to denote a contribution to a wider conversation. Hashtag abusers throw this concept, and caution, to the wind by merrily adding the symbol to any and every word they like. They're also prone to creating ridiculously long tags containing no spaces. To be fair, sometimes this is used to brilliant comedic effect. Almost every other time, it isn't.
Sample tweet: "Just fallen over in the street. #ToreMyJeans #Ow #ImSoEmbarrassed #WhyAmISuchAMoron?"
How to avoid it: The hashtag has made its way into spoken conversation. It's too late to stop this one. Save yourselves.
Sin #3: CCing EVERYONE
The obvious limitation of Twitter is also its greatest strength: the 140 character limit. This encourages brevity and actually, some pretty great writing too. It is in no way enough space however, for conversations which try to copy in everyone who might have contributed to it or be vaguely interested. Doing this in an attempt to keep a conversation going ends up leaving no room for the actual conversation, eg:
The worst version of this is cc-ing someone into the conversation who you think might be interested, and then allowing them to be sucked into the vortex of a million tweets they didn't ask for. It's the Twitter equivalent of junk mail.
How to avoid it: This is what hashtags are for!
Sin #4: The dreaded humblebrag
It comes to us so easily. Something wildly exciting happens; we've got a global broadcasting platform right there in front of us; all we have to do is find a way of telling everyone about it without looking like we're showing off. In these situations, we resort to a special vocabulary reserved for humble-bragging. We might say we're 'humbled', or 'deeply honoured'. Or worse, I might say how proud I am of 'my friend' Tim Vine after his Edinburgh festival win. Ha! You think I'm being nice – but I've subtly just told you I'm friends with a celebrity. Suckers.
How to avoid it: Just brag instead! Nobody minds you saying 'I'm really excited, something incredibly exciting has happend to me.' It's the false humility that drives everyone crazy.
Sin #5: Broadcasting
Social media is at its very best when it's a dialogue; where millions of people interact with one another – sometimes just once, and in other cases on a daily basis. Twitter especially is at its worst when we see it as a broadcast platform, offering our regular pronouncements on life and culture, and expecting others to share and respond to them.
This problem is particularly common among the more famous and followed tweeters. And to be fair, why would they be interested in your boring little life when everyone is so excited about theirs? Which is a light-hearted way of saying: this problem is fed and exacerbated by our embracing of the celebrity culture, which rewards this kind of behaviour with further adoration.
How to avoid it: Follow other people. Take some time to read their tweets, not just your mentions – and engage with their agendas, not just the one you bring.
Sin #6: Reposting praise – or criticism
At its best, Twitter's 'retweet' button is a glorious democratisation of content. Great jokes, inspiring ideas and important pieces of information rise to the top and are shared around the world – sometimes at lightning speed. Like everything though, it has a dark side. It's nice to receive praise and encouragement on Twitter – congratulations on a great sermon preached, or even on a positive element of one's character. The moment we hit that RT button however, that act of kindness is transformed into an opportunity for self-promotion.
Even worse though is the strategy employed by high profile tweeters when someone challenges or criticises them. In these cases, a casual click of the RT unleashes a swarming mob of angry followers on the critic; effectively elevating the original 'victim' above critique. Even when this tactic is used against a 'troll', the disproportionate response ends up proving that two wrongs don't cancel out.
How to avoid it: Resist. View not hitting that RT button as an opportunity to practice self-discipline. See, you're becoming a better person already.
Sin #7: Follower harvesting (includes buying followers)
A few years ago, I and a couple of colleagues came very close to publishing a whistle-blowing list of high-profile Christian tweeters who'd bought large numbers of followers. In the end we approached a few individually and persuaded them to dump the fakes; unfortunately the practice is still prevalent among certain leaders. That article might yet see the light of day.
Even more common – to the point of being advocated by some – is the idea of follower harvesting. This is where you follow lots of people, then unfollow those who don't follow back, in order to inflate your numbers. Please don't do this. It's just really silly.
How to avoid it: Chill. High follower numbers (and that coveted blue tick of verification) don't bring happiness – but friendship and engagement with like-minded people can.
So there you have it. A guide to the worst social media faux pas; an article which some are already calling 'tremendous work' and 'controversial stuff.' Of course, this is all #onlymyopinion; as I was telling my friend Bono the other day, that's the beauty of social media. One man's tweet is another man's poison.
Please do RT that little gem.
Martin Saunders is an author, screenwriter, and the Deputy Chief Executive of Youthscape. Become one of his few genuine followers on Twitter @martinsaunders