When Good Social Networks Go Bad

Not all social network are healthy. What is the impact of unhealthy social networks?

Harold Jarche has a great blog post about trust and social networks entitled, “when trust is lost.” In this post he points to how social networks in China erupted when Doctor Li Wenliang who had identified the corona virus and was reprimanded by the Chinese government for going public about the virus died from the virus. The government had tried to tamp down the news by not sharing information and silencing whistle-blowers.

But once the news of the virus was out and information began to be shared, the world community rallied and seems to be containing the virus’s spread.

Jarche makes he point that trust is vital for social networks to thrive and when it is present, networked learning increases trust.  I agree with Harold on this.

I think the real lynchpin is in the information allowed into the system and the social validity that information can achieve. Unfortunately, we can see a negative version of that being played out here in America. If you can subvert or at least call into doubt information – say, it was Ukraine, not Russia who tampered with US elections – and you have enough of the social network that will repeat this information as being true, you can subvert the network effect that normally would hone down falsehoods to leave the truth standing free.

Social networks honed down the falsehoods China was building to hide the epidemic, but it’s also clear that it was close to succeeding if it weren’t for Doctor Li’s death. Unfortunately, social networks can give credence to falsehoods and erode trust.

Social networks enable knowledge-sharing but don’t guarantee that the knowledge shared is truthful. Healthy social networks with authentic, service-oriented leaders; that welcome dissent and questioning of current knowledge; and are open to change will tend to weed out falsehoods, build trust in the network and its members, and provide knowledge that can be trusted to the point when other networks may test it and revise it.

But there are social networks whose leaders are self-serving; whose members fail to question “known” knowledge – either out of convenience or by coercion; and are resistant to change what they hold to be true. These networks will seldom issue information that is “true” but with propaganda, diffusion, and bluster to cover the fact that they haven’t vetted this information against all other information. They put on a charade of network behavior that seems to generate truth.

Unhealthy social networks aren’t necessarily negative or nefarious. There are plenty of well meaning groups who leaders who prefer to lead from authority, not with authenticity; who’s members cling to the “truths” they know; who reject any dissent from group norms. These groups too generate erroneous “truths”.

Jarche’s model holds well with the assumption of healthy social networks.  What it doesn’t address is when the system has been corrupted and unhealthy social networks begin to change the equation. The challenge is how can we stem the influence of unhealthy social networks – without trampling on their rights to believe what they believe.


Do you think these regulations will change anything? Will they drive greater support for data collection in learning? Motivate more collaboration between the business units and L&D?

Social Leadership Webinars

In a world that is rapidly changing, being a leader requires resilience, agility, and the ability to manage change.  But in our increasingly connected world, a leader must also practice skills that build their Social Capital – collaboration, storytelling and listening,   They also need to promote, through their actions, behaviors that build fairness, equality, and authenticity in the organization.

To elaborate on these principles Sea Salt Learning is hosting a series of monthly webinars by Julian Stodd.  Registration is FREE.  You can sign up for each webinar by clicking on the links below.

All times listed are GMT (London).  Except for February, all the webinars are at 2pm GMT (9am US Eastern, 6am US Pacific).

Don’t forget to bookmark this page in case you need to return to figure out when the next webinar is!

The Social Leadership Series 2018

Episode #1 -The Need for Social Leadership   JAN 23 @ 2:00pm GMT

Episode #2 – Developing Social Leadership  FEB 15 @ 4:00pm GMT

Episode #3 – Curation  MAR 21 @ 2:00pm GMT

Episode #4 – Storytelling  APR 12 @ 2:00pm GMT

Episode #5 – Sharing  MAY 8 @ 2:00pm GMT

Episode #6 – Community  JUN 12 @ 2:00pm GMT

Episode #7 – Reputation  JUL 3 @ 2:00pm GMT

Episode #8 – Authority  AUG 2 @ 2:00pm GMT

 Episode #9 – Co creation  SEP 11 @ 2:00pm GMT


free online conference

jay cross is at it again.

he’s created a free online conference on innovations in organizational learning that will run for the next two days.  conversations about learning and organizations features conversations amongst and with leading names from around the world.  sessions are running around the clock today and tomorrow.  drop in on a few of the discussions or brew a pot of coffee and try to take all of the sessions in.

knowing jay and many of the moderators, it will be a tremendously stimulating conference.  check it out!