Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Struggle To Keep It Positive On Social Media

Social Media Is a Different World

Everyone is aware that the rules for interaction on the internet are different than the rules for face to face interaction. There are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, when you are sitting in front of a flesh and blood person you can make a statement and they can tell from your tone of voice and body language whether you are being serious, sarcastic, silly, etc. When you make the same comment in an online forum the body language is not there and people will always take your words at face value.

Another difference between personal interaction and online interaction is that the comments you post online don't go away. Okay, you can delete them, but if you don't they stick around forever. What you say in a group of friends might not even be heard by everyone, and the people who do hear it are likely to forget what you said five minutes later. Unless you said something truly offensive, but that's a different thing altogether. When you make a comment online, it's there for anyone to read. And reread. And reread again. As are the replies people make. And your replies to their replies and so on. Yeah, in places like Facebook there are privacy settings, but even with those in place your words are accessible to more people than would typically hear a discreet conversation between you and a friend. Let's face it, the internet is a public place and every time we say anything it's like we're standing on a podium making a speech. Most of us would not make a speech without careful planning. The same should be true for the things we say online.

The Social Media Mudslinging Match

Have you ever met someone with whom you had a difference of opinion? Well, of course you have. We all have. Have you ever engaged in a lively debate with that person? Probably. Face to face debates can actually be fun because, again, you can often judge by a person's vocal tone and body language whether their comments are being made out of anger or whether said comments are intended to be insulting. As long as both parties are in good spirits and are laying out their points in a calm and logical manner, differences of opinion can lead to great discussions. Not so online. Have you ever seen a debate online? Have you ever seen one that looked fun? That seemed to offend no one? That was nothing more than a few people calmly stating their point of view and then sitting back and listening attentively to someone else's point of view? Okay, you actually can have that kind of discussion online, but you have to spend so much time saying things like, "I see your point, but" or "I completely understand how people might feel that way, however" that the actual point you're trying to make gets lost in a sea of apologies. Most people don't take the time to say those things and so online debates quickly turn nasty. And they turn nasty with the whole world watching.

I don't want to get involved in the mudslinging, and so I've vowed to share very few of my opinions online. I just don't want the drama. I don't want people angry at me over a comment that would not have even phased them if I'd said it to their face, but online...well, that's different. I don't want to share political posts to my Facebook stream and invite the kinds of attacks I see hurled as these types of posts every day. I don't want to lose friends because they find out that...gulp...I vote differently than they do. Maybe political opinions have always been an impediment in some relationships, but usually people could get to a point where they would agree to disagree. Social media has changed that. People get tired of having their political candidate, their religion, their ethnic group, or their socioeconomic group insulted over and over by what someone else thought was just a funny Facebook meme. I get tired of those things too, but I don't comment because that would make me one of the mudslingers, and I don't want to be a mudslinger.

The Challenge

I have opinions like everyone else. Some of my opinions are very strong. Sometimes I find myself so angered by what someone else posts on Facebook that I want to write my own angry rant about that topic. Holding my tongue is hard, especially in the face of stereotypes. There are times when I want to say, "Okay, yes I do think that, but I would never do that. We're not all freaks, you know." But I don't say anything because I don't want to open the door to the nastiness that will likely ensue.

There are also some issues facing our society today that make me very angry. While I can usually face a difference of opinion in a spirit of respect, there are some things that will always ruffle my feathers. There are days when I feel an overwhelming urge to post something political just to show everyone else how wrong they are. But again, I don't. Why? Because I know it will not be effective. I mean really, how many people have changed their opinion on an important issue because they read a Facebook post from someone who disagrees with them? Yeah, reading the opinions of others might make us think about things in a new way, which could lead to a change of heart, but quite often it just makes us angry. Quite often it just makes us want to post our own opinion, and post it in such a way that it drowns out the voices of all who disagree.

Going Forward

At the end of the day I've decided that it's not worth it to risk friendships over conflicting worldviews. Actions speak louder than words anyway, so as long as I live my life according to my own values I don't need to be online shoving those values into the faces of others. But I do want to sometimes. I mean, I'm only human, after all.

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