Cancel culture, Twitter trendings and radical transparency

This post is a bit different from usual posts, and because I'm not very good at communicating unstructured thoughts it could be hard to read

I'm not going to debate whether or not cancel culture is bad, plenty of people have done it, and it seems there can't be a definitive answer on it. But I feel like cancel culture is just a part of a bigger thing.

A few days ago a company of 50 people announced (in an unusual way) that employee would be asked to not talk about politics at work. If you don't know Basecamp and you are not in tech, that will not make a bigger news to you than knowing your neighboor is wearing a white shirt. But for the internet apparently it was not the case. There was thousands of comments on Hackernews, there are several threads of employees on Twitter making thousands of repost, there was an article about it in every major newspapper. Seriously why would Bloomberg cares about of a change a company of 50 people made, especially since 'no politics at work' is almost a practice in any company in the world.

The answer is Twitter trendings. Twitter Trendings is a list of topics that are trending on Twitter. If you are not a Twitter user, usually for a topic to be trending this is not the result of several small people talking about the object. But instead this is one account tweeting something and thousands of people retweeting or liking it. Then people see the topic in trendings and start making other tweets about it. But not every content is a candidate for being in trendings, that need something that most people can give their mind about it. And it is better if this is content of someone who is outraged about something, because when you are outraged about something you are more vocals, and when you are outraged about something, other people who are outraged at everything will support you. That's how every person being cancelled starts, that's how the Basecamp stories started, that's how a lot of topics you see on TV or newspapper start, that's how the "new X covid variant stories" starts

Imagine you are a journalist, and you need to make an article. You want your article to have a good engagement and to make people come to your website. What a better way than writting about something which is currently trending on Twitter ? If it is trending on Twitter it means it interests people. So this journalists makes article about it. And when other people involved with the stories starts seeing articles about it or the subject being trendy on Twitter. They start writting threads to explain their side of the story. Those thread usually makes thousands of likes and retweets. Not because what they say is important or right. Just because they express an opinion on something which is trendy and they have first hand experience about it. When I talk about people, I'm not talking about celebrities, it is really random people like me and you, who have 300 followers.

The crazy thing is that when a topic is trending it doesn't mean most of people care about it, it only means a few thousands people are vocal about it. Imagine if you have a protest of five thousands people in the street. Making that kind of protest is difficult to do. Thousands of people need to make an effort to all go at the same place in the same time and wait a few hours of their time shouting, and at the end this is only a small protest that nobody is going to talk about, because if that was only 5000 people it probably most people don't care about it. But on Twitter this is different. To create a protest you don't need any effort, you just need to click on several buttons (the retweet or like button of people who are vocal about it ), as a result instead of 5k people you have a virtual protest of more than 50k people. The protest seems much bigger and also seems to be important whereas in fact this is still just a very very small fraction of people.

One of the thing that I've discovered since the covid started is how much newspappers act as propaganda. This is probably not intentionnaly, but the results is the same. When newspapper creates content on top of Twitter trending subject, they give importance to this topics to anyone who read them. Is there any topics more interesting to people than Basecamp ? Well probably any topic is more interesting to people than Basecamp, but instead we hear about Basecamp. Is what is wrote about Basecamp even true ? Probably not, on Twitter doesn't have to be true to be retweeted, and I would say it almost has to be false to be retweeted. So we have a loop. A few thousands people have a strong mind about topic, it becomes trending because people are outraged about it, the content is picked up by newspapper, anyone has now (a wrong) opinion on the topic. Sometimes it results in someone being cancelled, sometimes it is someone being praised, sometimes is a company being blamed. And most of the time for something which is not even true.

I'm a big fan of transparency inside an organization, but I'm very against Radical transparency. "Radical transparency has also been explained by Dan Goleman as a management approach where (ideally,) all decision making is carried out publicly". At first it was companies being transparent with their employees about the business, but some companies tried to be transparent with the public. This is mostly a marketing strategy to create a cult around the company. Basecamp is an example of that, they have 50 employees, make less than 40M of revenue, but still they are very known in the tech world (before they made the headlines). Initially transparency can helps you become better, as any decision of results is public, it forces you to try to be the best everywhere. When you are the best, you can then communicate it publicly and people starts saying you are a dream company. Is it really a dream company ? Well probably at the beginning. When everything go well, when you have a lot of money, it is easy to be perfect. But the issue is you are also telling the public they should have high expectations with you. No one is perfect, and no company is perfect. One day someone is going to make a mistake, or the company will have a difficult time. This time people who have high expectations will be outraged by it, and the company will get a correction. When you are transparent with the public, you remove the borders of the company and any topic for employees is a public topic. For example if you are in a Radical transparency company and the founder publicly says that he is a supported of Trump, all people who are hate Trump will blame the company (even though you are free to have politics opinion). Because in a radical transparency company, the opinion of one person is also the opinion of the company, and I said the founder, but probably the same would happen if this is an normal employee.

I have a few advice:

  • Most of content we read on newspapper is false, not intentionnaly but because of lack of seriousness of the profession.
  • Radical transparency is a trap. It can help you a lot to start a company but if you don't leave the trend before it is too late you are going to pay the price. (Alan be careful)
  • Twitter is the kingdom of fake news and human stupidity, always verify what you read.
  • A company is not a relationship. Communicating everything is not going to solve all the problems, some people lack context and knowledge to fully grasp issues.