During the Global Peace Convention which happened in Nairobi this past week, Uriel Gbenga of Landmark Internships, Nigeria, said something quite interesting. He said that participation in social media is tantamount to entering into a social contract with other people. I was/am a student of Sociology and Economics and his statement took me back to my University days when we were learning about the communist manifesto and social contracts. I loved those days – reading about the fathers of sociology, their ideas, arguments, and critiques. Sociology was just the ish. But I digress. Given Uriel’s statement, I wanted to explore what social contracts meant back then and how it can be interpreted today.
The Social Contract theory, the modern one at least, was advanced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. According to the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, “Social Contract Theory, nearly as old as philosophy itself, is the view that persons’ moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement between them to form society.” A Wikipedia definition that I also liked mentioned that “the Social Contract can also be thought of as an agreement by the governed on a set of rules by which they are governed.” It also asserted that “Social contract theory formed a central pillar in the historically important notion that legitimate state authority must be derived from the consent of the governed.”
Given these definitions of social contract and how Uriel referred to it during the Global Peace Convention when talking about Social Entrepreneurship, I believe that there is a fundamental connection between how the social contract theory was interpreted then and how it can be interpreted now. The times have clearly changed but the fundamentals still remain the same.
As we all know by now, social media has revolutionized the way people publish, find, read, and share content. And with loads of content from all across the web as the world wakes up to the reality of everyone being a publisher or potential publisher, something critical happens – Information Overload. But as Clay Shirky aptly pointed out, “it’s not information overload, its filter failure.” When we have so much content out there, we have to find ways to ensure that we don’t miss out on the valuable content by getting drowned in mediocre content. The filter process involves finding the best mechanism to sort out the best content. In social media, authorities and influencers is what you remain with after you separate the wheat from the chaff. What does this have to do with social contracts?
Uriel said that by deciding to follow you on Twitter, I am entering into a social contract with you whereby I follow you on the premise that you will provide me with good content. In the same way that “a legitimate state authority must be derived from the consent of the governed”, in social media, your attribution as an authority in whichever field you write on is not up to you but your readers. It is through their consent that you enjoy the authority status. By your readers subscribing to your content be it through liking your page, following you on twitter, signing up for your newsletter, joining your community, or subscribing to your blog posts, they have entered into social contract with you whereby they acknowledge you as the authority in return for quality content/insight, no less.
When this contract is not upheld, you lose your authority as people unfollow, unfriend, and unsubscribe. So the one thing you should always remember is that a social contract is an agreement with an exploding offer. The catch is that you will continue to have our attention for as long as you can provide us with quality content. The same agreement that was struck between the governors and the governed back then is still the same one that is being made between content creators and consumers.
The question then is; are you holding up your end of the contract?