Monday, February 09, 2015

Social media: the good, the bad, and the ugly

This decidedly pissed off peacock is
going to be my go-to retort
in social media conflict
I have reflected before upon the utility of social media in the church and in our world.  I have talked about how I have built relationships with new friends and subsequently met them in real life.  I have talked about how I have been challenged, loved, and opened up to new ideas by so many wonderful people.  This is the good side of social media.

But today I want to talk about the bad and the ugly sides of social media. Online communication is by its very nature anonymous. It is possible to be a "registered" user on Facebook or twitter or instagram or part of any comment section on a blog. But you are always behind a computer screen. You do not have the experience of seeing how your words impact someone else.  Words typed in an online forum are without context of non-verbal communication and it is incredibly easy to "read" something wrong.

I am a professional communicator.  I spend my entire day communicating with my patients and the words that they say are only a very small part of what they are saying.  Body language, tone, emotion, facial expression, and what they are NOT saying is just as important if not more important than the words that are spoken.  Online communication is devoid of this important context. This is the bad side of social media.

The anonymous nature of online communication means that you get to put some distance between yourself and your words.  You do not have to "own" them.  It is in this sort of communication that words can be used as weapons.  You can lob a digital grenade and then hide behind your screen name. This is the ugly side of social media.

Social media gives anyone a platform, even if they have nothing constructive to say.  It is a transactional form of communication, instead of a broadcast form of communication.  Anyone can say anything and anyone can respond to what you say. This means that there is a sheer avalanche of things going on in the realm of social media at any time. It is possible to choose how you want to engage and conduct yourself in online communications.

My friend, Pastor David Hansen, posted a helpful guide to online communications this week on Facebook.  He found it posted on the wall of an elementary school, which should tell us something about how basic these thoughts should be.  Unfortunately, this sort of common sense is not that common.

Think before you post online:  
-Could someone misinterpret what I'm saying?
-Am I showing a bad side of myself?
-Am I revealing too much about myself?
-Could someone feel disrespected?
-Am I posting in anger?
-Who might be able to read this?

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