Digital, social media strategist keynotes Ethics Institute in Media

Sree Sreenivasan shared what he believes are important ethical considerations for both the digital and real worlds


Sree Sreenivasan speaks in Stackhouse Theater on March 9. Photo by Maya Lora, ‘20

Maya Lora, News Writer

The 65th Media Ethics Keynote Address speaker Sree Sreenivasan does not believe anyone has mastered the delicate art of social media quite yet, including the heads of major social media networks.

“If they had mastered it, there would be no Russian trolls; there would be no fake news,” Sreenivasan said. “If these folks who bring us these tools of social media understood how they work truly, properly, their potential and their pitfalls, there would be no President Donald J. Trump.”

Sreenivasan is a social and digital consultant for nonprofits, startups and executives. He held previous positions at both Columbia University and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which he said he left everything behind to join.

Sreenivasan became popular after getting fired from the Met. The decision to fire Sreenivasan made headlines—and so did his response. He posted a form on Facebook, asking people to tell him what he should do next. He got 1,400 responses.

Quartz Media contextualized the significance of Sreenivasan’s decision.

“He demonstrated a deft, natural mastery of his medium, social media, and gave his network the ammo they would need to help him out of his predicament,” Jenni Avins said in an article for Quartz Media.

Throughout his lecture, which he insisted on calling a “conversation,” Sreenivasan attempted to leave the audience with small nuggets of his mastery.

As someone who has successfully used his network to become a part of the larger conversation concerning social media, Sreenivasan repeatedly stressed the importance of connecting with people even when you may not benefit from the relationship.

Sreenivasan also recommended learning to use mobile phones to do almost anything, including making presentations. He conducted his entire lecture from the Google Slides app on his phone. He even offered the audience ten of his mobile chargers to make sure they would have full batteries for the duration of his presentation.

But Sreenivasan also focused on the ethical implications of the use of social media, and he addressed some of the dilemmas that have arisen in his experience.

“Now you should know that I’m the 120,000th most important person on Twitter,” Sreenivasan said. “Tells you how desperate the professor is, he couldn’t find the 119,000th most important person.”

Sreenivasan used his own standing on social media to point out that sometimes we end up following those who have the most followers—not necessarily the most important or intelligent people.

“You end up listening to the same kinds of voices all the time,” Sreenivasan said.

Sreenivasan said that even the Pope is in on the race to the top. He pulled up an article saying the Pope was offering time off Purgatory for Twitter follows.

“I am not Catholic, but I’m not taking any chances,” Sreenivasan said. “And in case this whole reincarnation thing doesn’t work out as a good Hindu, I’m following him in eight languages.”

Other issues are a little bit more difficult to work through.

Sreenivasan said he no longer uses gifs of minorities—aside from himself. He referred to a phenomenon known as “digital blackface,” in which a number of GIFs are of minorities and can be viewed as derogatory.

“The vow I took is I’m not going to use the easiest, funniest GIFs that are available, because they’re of minorities and often you’re actually making fun of them, and that’s why they’re there,” Sreenivasan said.

Sreenivasan also refrains from using certain Bitmojis.

Relatedly, Sreenivasan took a vow for his 12-year-old daughter, in which he swore to never again speak on an all-male panel. He later “upgraded” his promise to include never attending all-male panels.

Sreenivasan pointed out that even this was an ethical dilemma, since women had been talking about the issue for much longer than he had, yet he was the one many were listening to.

“And that is patently unfair, but we’ve got to take what we can,” Sreenivasan said. “I certainly didn’t set out to be the face of this thing, but I’m glad if it’s had an impact. I’m really proud of what we’ve done.”