It’s a Very Mad World Wide Web :: Respectful Discord in the Digital Age

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For years, I’ve seen friends post about taking a hiatus from social media, particularly around the season of Lent. I’ve rarely felt inclined to do that myself, as I’m usually minimally involved digitally.
 
For me, Facebook started as a place to share stories with friends of late night college shenanigans. It now offers a bit of connection with those friends’ growing families.
 
Instagram provided a place to share dinner or vacation pictures (because you all wanted to see the burger I was devouring). But today I don’t even remember my password. Thank you, mom-brain. Now I largely stay engaged for Birmingham Moms Blog, because truthfully, I have to hide in the bathroom for uninterrupted cellphone time. But more and more, I’m losing my appetite for being digitally connected.

It’s the end of the world (wide web) as we know it . . . and I don’t feel fine.

Over the years, I’ve observed social media become a place where people voice their opinions without much concern for how their words might impact others. I’ve observed people poking and prodding others from behind the comfortable protection of a screen.
 
I ask myself, “Why are adults so worried about teenage cyber-bullying when the most hateful language I see comes from adults on my newsfeed?” If we want our young people today to use social media appropriately, then we have to lead by example.
 
You likely don’t need examples of misuse of social media, but there’s a few I want to share:
 
  • Recently, in a “supportive online parenting group” of all places, I had rude and shaming comments made to me when I vulnerably posted asking for help.
  • On my Facebook feed in the last week, I’ve seen multiple people tear others down for writing something that didn’t align with their personal beliefs.
  • And I don’t have the space to address the political hostility I’ve witnessed from all sides in recent months.

Remember the Person Behind the Screen

In a relationship, name calling is a form of emotional abuse. But on social media, it’s become commonplace and accepted.
 
I’m not advocating for keeping social media a place just for those envy-inducing pictures of our vacation or thoughts on where to get a good burger. That ship has sailed. Social media can be an amazing platform for important education, advocacy, and inspiration.
 
What I really wish is that we could all be a bit more aware of the fact that there aren’t robots on the other side of our screen. There are real, live, breathing people; people with hearts that feel and minds that are impressionable. I’ve recently been reminded of the saying: “Be careful who you say you hate, as it might just be someone that you love.”
 

Waiting on the World (Wide Web) to Change

Our divisive political and cultural climates are likely not changing any time soon. While we can’t control this, perhaps we can start enacting change by controlling the way we speak to and about each other in the online world. Here are a few suggestions for bringing more thoughtfulness into our social media usage:
 
  1. Would you want this comment said to you? The Golden Rule isn’t just for BBQ, y’all. Consider asking yourself, “Is this communicating disrespect, belittlement, or insult to the person on the other side of the screen? Is it intentionally attempting to make someone feel badly? Am I just trying to win an argument, making the other person the loser?” If you’ve answered yes, please put on the brakes.
  2. Might someone you care about feel negatively impacted by your words? Remember your social media audience is not made up of exact replicas of you. People you are friends with often differ in political opinion, socioeconomic status, race, gender, and personal beliefs. It’s a diverse world out there with lots of valid perspectives. Our words are powerful and can hurt or alienate a person we actually really love, giving us a good reason to press “pause” instead of “post”.
  3. What would little eyes make of this? Perhaps we should be more concerned about whether a post promotes respect and human decency toward others rather than if someone drops an f-bomb or isn’t wearing “enough” clothing. Ask yourself, “Would I want my child to read what I’m about to post or would I want my child to say this?” If these questions make you squirm, maybe hold off on hitting send.
  4. Is your comment or your post based in truth? I’m working overtime teaching my kid the importance of telling the truth, and I have to stop and ask, “Am I doing that for myself? Is the information I’m sharing factual or based on my own limited perspective? Does it invite dialogue or shut the conversation down?” Perhaps we all need to be our own fact-checkers before posting.

What a Wonderful World Wide Web

 
There are no seamless rules for what to post on social media. Truthfully, we are all going to mess up at times. If you, like me, are guilty of breaking the above suggestions, you’re not alone! I know we can all do a bit better in this area, and I think our future depends on it.
 
Perhaps if we begin to slow our roll before we make those salty comments or belligerent posts, we might create a much kinder living environment for ourselves and our children in the World Wide Web. Won’t you join me?