So I wrote a tweet that caused a minor bit of a stir. I used the word “whore”. It is offensive. I knew it was offensive. The purpose of the tweet was to offend. But where Twitter’s 140 characters causes the loss of critical nuance is who I meant to offend, and why.
The tweet in question is here. It reads “Do you work for $vendor? Do you tweet? You’re a tech whore. Cope. Stop getting all shocked when others call you biased, or when they are.” (I corrected a typo here in this blog. The original tweet contains a typo. “Getting” was spelled “gettong”.)
Now, I understand that some individuals will choose to take great offense to this tweet for a number of reasons. Oh, and yes, I knew that I as wrote it. You can vilify me doubleplus extra for that, if you’d like. There are lots of things mean and bad and terribly unkind there, but the one everyone is going to get caught up in is the use of the word “whore”.
That’s a bad word
Some people equate “whore” with prostitution. It can easily be argued that such a significant portion of our population makes this connection that everyone else – including myself – should fall in line with this particular interpretation of the word.
You know what? That’s fair enough. I’m not even going to really debate that. I am certain there are piles of academic papers, horrible stories of personal trauma and reams of complicated logical flowcharts that explain why I should use the language as others dictate. I am a horrible, very bad, awful person in their eyes for using the bad word “whore”, and I accept that. Let’s move on.
Now, I don’t equate “whore” with prostitution. Why? Because I don’t accept that the negative connotations of the word should apply to prostitutes, in large part because I don’t actually have any problem with prostitutes. (Yet another thing some segment of the population can hate me for.)
If men, women, transgendered individuals and whatever other wild and wonderful combinations our species have to offer wish to engage in companionship (sexual or not) for money, I support them in their choice. I’m not in a position to judge them or their choices, and I don’t have the bizarre religious baggage that so many folks so about the subject. Whatever consenting adults choose to do is their business. Have fun, folks.
To me, a “whore” is something else entirely. A whore is someone who compromises their ethics for money. For a lot of people, prostitution would be a pretty major compromise of their personal ethics, and so I find that the two concepts (and thus the usage of the term) have become very wrapped up and intertwined with time.
This is made doubly true by the fact that a huge percentage of our population views prostitution as offensive, even degenerate. There are lots of people who are unable or unwilling to understand that many people choose of their own free will to engage in prostitution and that doing so isn’t a compromise of their personal ethics, because their personal ethics are simply different from the person busy casting aspersions.
If you pay me to perform an act that I feel compromises my ethics, and I do it, I’m a whore. Whether or not the act in question is sexual in nature isn’t particularly relevant to how I use the term, and my usage of the term is not arbitrary. It has evolved with this level of nuance as a reflection of how society at large treats the subjects under discussion, and yes, because of the emotions the term evokes.
Social media whores
The tweet read ” Do you work for $vendor? Do you tweet? You’re a tech whore. Cope. Stop getting all shocked when others call you biased, or when they are”. I want to expand on this.
Twitter’s 140 characters don’t really allow much depth. The first thing to get out of the way is that this isn’t aimed at “everyone who tweets”, but specifically at “those people who follow me on Twitter.” Almost exclusively, people who follow me on twitter are involved in the technology industry, and they are all pretty active on social media.
This tweet was inspired by yet another public social media pissing contest between representatives of powerful vendors in the technology space. Two very senior individuals in these companies (who really ought to know better) were slinging mud and otherwise engaging in tearing down the competition.
These individuals are not bad people. They are not overly hostile people and how they will behave when not talking about their employer (or competitors to their employer) is completely and totally different to how they behave when shots are fired in marketing anger.
These individuals generally hold everyone else to a high standard of Wheaton’s Law, and usually prefer to see people on Twitter talking about what makes their products great, not trashing the competition. Yet when it comes to the products they work on, and the company that pays them, they compromise their ethics.
This is very, very common in IT. So much so that those technologists who are moderate to heavy Twitter users and don’t compromise their ethics surrounding discussions about their employer/product/competition are notable for their rarity. (Or because they don’t seem to have any standards in this regard at all; either for themselves or that they hold others to.)
Is my making a blanket statement that encompasses all my followers into this “you compromise your ethics for money” statement an overreaching overgeneralisation? Probably; I have a bad habit of that. There’s yet another reason I’m a horrible human being.
The other element of us technoweenies all being whores on social media is bias. We’re all biased. Even if only because we are exposed disproportionately to information.
If you have two products from two vendors, and you spend 8 hours a day learning why Product A from Vendor Y is awesome, but only a few hours a week on the benefits of Product B from vendor Z, you are going to end up biased. Even if you try very, very hard not to be.
The truth is, human memory – and human cognition in general – is really quite fallible. We are prone to all sorts of weird logical errors. Our memory does weird things that makes eyewitness testimony horribly unreliable. We suffer from decision fatigue and ego depletion that make us prone to bad decisions when under stress or when tired, and it makes the whole faulty memory thing worse.
We make emotional judgements, even when we like to think of ourselves as logical, rational beings. We associate products, brands and – most especially – our employers into our sense of self. Our sense of self-worth is associated with how well the brands to which we have become loyal perform.
In other words: not compromising ourselves on behalf of those who pay us (or those who make our lives easier in other ways) is really, really hard. We do it subconsciously, and most of us never stop to think about any of this, even for a second…let alone actively work to correct our perceptions, actions and reactions to compensate for the above.
Are we really all whores?
You might think it unfair of me to use the term “whore” in the tweet in question, even if we accept my own personal definition. I stated that my definition of “whore” was “someone who compromises their ethics for money”. Is the usage of the term justified if what’s being discussed is a subconscious compromise of ethics rather than a conscious one?
That is the debate I hoped to elicit.
The truth is, I don’t really have an answer to that. Even within my own definition of the term, and within the framework of my personal ethics, I’m working that one out.
On the one hand, the information about the fallibility of our own minds is out there. It’s not exactly news; much of this research is decades old. I certainly expect educated professionals to have heard of it…and perhaps expecting that is unfair.
Or perhaps not. Most of those who are following me on twitter are individuals who use social media to magnify their personal and professional footprints within the technology industry. Knowing the sorts of things I discussed above about how our brains work would seem to me to be a pretty fundamental bit of information for accomplishing the task at hand. The task at hand, to be perfectly clear, is “influencing others.”
Do bear in mind that a huge chunk of my followers describe themselves as “influencers”, hold professional titles like “evangelist” and join professional groups whose stated aim is the maximization of influence and/or participating in evangelism. These are people who seek to wield social media as a weapon, and there is no small part of me that feels they need to be properly trained before being let loose on the field in full colours.
Some of these people are perfectly conscious of the fact that they make compromises for their paycheque. And some of them admit it openly, even with good humour. Others are deeply offended by the concept.
So are they whores? That is up to everyone who reads this to decide. That anyone is taking the time to contemplate the question at all was the whole point of the tweet itself. (Yes, you can offend people into thinking. It is a thing.)
And for those of you who want to vilify me for using an emotionally and politically charged term to accomplish my ends, I accept your scorn. I am a bad person, and I say mean things.
But to be fair, I warned everyone about that in my Twitter bio.
*For the record, I count myself amongst the social media “whores”. While I own my own company – and thus the ability to be slave to it is rather minimal – I am absolutely slave to products and vendors that make my life easier. Out of respect for the companies to which I have a sense of brand tribalism, I’m not going to list them here, because they don’t need to be SEOed with a blog post using the word “whore” umpteen times. Suffice it to say that I am aware of my own bias, and I do put real effort into countering it, many times refusing to take on a client or discuss a given vendor because I know I cannot be objective. I don’t always succeed, but I do at least try.