Lack of burden and responsibility is making social media a trashier place than it ever was. This article speculates why it is so and how it can be fixed.

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To “cc” someone means to “carbon copy” someone. There were times when, if I was writing you a letter, and I wanted for a common friend of ours also to know, I’d have to keep a carbon paper under it while I write, so the carbon copy (hence the name) can be sent to him. There was a cost attached to each additional person I made copies for. Cost can be money (paper, carbon paper, postage), effort (the additional work). There was also a responsibility attached to it. Emails trashed this concept, by making the cost of 1 copy same the cost of 100 copies (or a million copies). End result is a work environment that is made unproductive due to emails and the occasional private conversations that get copied to an organization full of users (and many of them respond to that, that’s story for another day)

Social media is also going through the same phenomenon. Whether it is a discussion forum or a blog or Q&A forum or microblogging or Facebook — they are going through a phase where contributing content has no cost or responsibility attached to it. End result — too much contributions and, I speculate, too little consumption and at any rate, too little quality.

Sometime ago I posted status on social media that Facebook ought to be ask subscribers to pay a fee. Not all of them, only those that wanted to contribute (defined as anything other than reading and liking). Some people did not seem to like the idea — because it defies a golden rule of behavioral economics — mixing social norms with market norms. So I think, if the burden cannot be money, how can we resolve this? The answer may lie within two words — social postage. Social postage merely means every contribution has to have postage attached to it and postage will not be paid for in money — but by credits, earned by responsible actions. Who is to judge “responsible actions” you ask? People who consume the information have to themselves judge that. So you won’t be limited be how much you can contribute, but only be how much credits you have earned and how judiciously you like to use it.

As far as I see, there is no flipside to this — except content will become scarcer — but I am betting world will be a better place with less content and more thought.

What do you think?

Originally published at on May 22, 2012.