Managing Conversations Online Is A Puzzle Of Picking Platforms : All Tech Considered While social media can galvanize movements and offer access to activists, sensitive conversations can easily go off the rails online. But we are becoming better managers of these online conversations.
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Managing Conversations Online Is A Puzzle Of Picking Platforms

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Managing Conversations Online Is A Puzzle Of Picking Platforms

Managing Conversations Online Is A Puzzle Of Picking Platforms

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Keeping up with technology can seem to be more trouble than it's worth. Every time you turn around, there's a new platform and a new conversation happening on it. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest. And among the many things these social media platforms can be used for, arguing is a perennial favorite, whether the topic is sports, TV shows or the day's news. But not every conversation works on every platform. As NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, we're getting more sophisticated about choosing what we say and where we say it.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: If you're going to argue about anything online, there's a strong chance it'll be about culture, feminism or race. Jay Smooth is a media strategist for a social justice group called Race Forward, and he hosts a popular video blog called the "Ill Doctrine," where he talks about issues like the Eric Garner case and police protesting the mayor of New York.

JAY SMOOTH: Wow. So I could've sworn that there was a time when I could make funny videos that had jokes in them.

ULABY: Smooth's also got about 50,000 followers on Twitter and close to 10,000 Facebook followers and friends. They expect him to jump in when something happens, like when the actor Kevin Costner recently said in an interview that the subject of race shuts down conversations. Smooth fired up Twitter like he usually does to talk about it, but things did not go as expected.

SMOOTH: And I felt like in that setting my snarky comments came off as overly petty and didn't really honor the issue the way I wanted to. So I deleted the Twitter and then told everyone to go to my Facebook and we could talk about there.

ULABY: A sensible move, says Guy Kawasaki, who co-wrote a book called "The Art Of Social Media."

GUY KAWASAKI: Twitter is very poorly designed for threading or continuity, right?

ULABY: Meaning it's not effective for ongoing discussions involving lots of different people. Twitter is terse, 140 characters. And its shards of rhetoric work perfectly for spreading jokes, memes and pointed observations. There's room for nuance, says Jay Smooth, but it's a different kind of nuance than Facebook's.

SMOOTH: Facebook for me is more of a place to have a smaller-focused conversation with a core group, and Twitter is a place to add your voice to a much bigger conversation that no one is controlling.

ULABY: But that's not how it works for Saeed Jones. He's an editor for BuzzFeed, the news website dedicated to pumping out everything from serious news to lists of underappreciated Disney characters. Jones tweets to his 18,000 followers mostly about race, sexuality and gender.

SAEED JONES: I'm much less comfortable talking about racism on Facebook.

ULABY: Jones grew up in Texas, he says, and went to college in Kentucky.

JONES: I have a lot of conservative friends, and friends of friends, and people that I knew in other parts of my life that I may not be in touch with now, and I don't really feel like getting in arguments with people. (Laughter).

ULABY: Constantly, Jones says, he sees online conversations he thinks are on the wrong social platforms.

JONES: Oh, my God, all the time. (Laughter). All the time.

ULABY: Just a few days ago in fact, he joked on Twitter he needed to move a conversation to GChat, it was getting just a little too intimate. And over the course of just one day, he says, he and his friends will switch platforms constantly.

JONES: We'll talk a bit on email and then, you know, one of them might send me a direct message on Twitter, and then it's a text message. And all of this is - it's weirdly seamless.

ULABY: Jones says he thinks people feel more pressure today to take on social media identities and be part of these conversations. Those who don't can sometimes feel left out. But Jones, who is also a poet, says it's possible to find pleasure in figuring out the new rules - how we write to each other, how to be ourselves in 140 characters or less.

JONES: I think that's fascinating. I think it's a fascinating opportunity as a writer to kind of think about language in a way that's also in-step with how we live, how we read the news, how we communicate with our friends.

ULABY: And how we shape different stories to different platforms, and how that ends up shaping us.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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