Time to stop hiding behind the ‘safety’ of social media

If there is one thing that makes me crazy, it’s the delight some people take in slamming others on social media without the old-fashioned ‘hard work’ of having to either pick up the phone and talk to them directly, or even worse, going to meet the ‘offender’ in person to reason things out.

We had a recent incident of this at the Express, where someone in our editorial department was not only falsely accused of plagiarism on our web site, but also had their educational background questioned on facebook.

Where do you begin to defend yourself?

People like this are often just aching for a blistering ‘war of words’ to be sparked on facebook or Twitter, so sometimes its best to take the higher road and ignore it. Or you can respond in a concise, civil manner.

It’s just disappointing and sad, in general, that people turn to social media to attack others period.

The scourge of cyber-bullying isn’t disappearing however. And of course tragically, young people are particularly vulnerable to this as some teen suicides have been directly related to the harassment they have endured online. It’s heartbreaking.

But no matter how old you are, it hurts to see posted comments about yourself that either aren’t true or are just plain cruel. And knowing more and more of the person’s ‘friends’ are seeing it all just adds to the frustration.

The longer I am in the journalism business, the more examples I see of this.

I have watched helplessly as I’ve seen myself – not directly but certainly by implication – be accused of things and blamed for things that in all honestly I had either nothing to do with or what is said is so misinformed it’s ridiculous.

There is of course no context to the comments. My side is conveniently not there. Readers get one usually wildly inaccurate side of the story with many truths left out as well.

As such, I have typically chosen to not even respond.

Social media, in my view, is not the place to engage in furious public arguments where honestly there is little hope for the parties to reason things out or come to an understanding.

We all know how texts and facebook messages, like any typed message, lack any sense of context. There’s really not much of a back story. We can’t ‘read’ the other person’s expression when they wrote it. It’s void of emotion – unless people plaster an exclamation point after a sentence which usually denotes good humour.

But words alone can indeed be powerful and cutting. As we all know, they can do a lot of damage whether they are typed, emailed, texted or spoken. But thanks to facebook and Twitter, that damage of course escalates to an entirely new level because potentially hundreds more people are brought into something which most likely is none of their affair anyways.

I recently watched a program on CBC’s Doc Zone called ‘Digital Dummies’, which pointed out how the tidal wave of technological change over the past few years has revolutionized how humans interact – or don’t bother to interact – with each other.

We’ve all seen people wandering around streets, head down, texting. Sometimes they nearly walk into signs, trip over objects, you name it. But ‘staying connected’ trumps all.

The documentary pointed out that contrary to the notion of being able to multi-task, humans can’t really do a number of things simultaneously; at least, they can’t do them well. You can’t be a responsible driver while texting, although many insist they somehow manage just fine.

We’ve also all seen people sitting at tables in restaurants, phones in hand, much more intrigued in what those little contraptions can do than what the folks around the table may have to say.

It’s time to put social media in its place.

We should be controlling it – not the other way around. We should also be using it responsibly and maturely – not as a forum for rude, misinformed, ignorant and hurtful comments.

Gone are the days when a lack of such technology meant people had to confront the person they disagreed with face to face.

Or at least speak on the phone. Often, the sound of a voice or the expression on a face does much to soften even the harshest of disagreements. There’s literally nothing to hide behind. Humans seem to have a heightened ability to be brazenly unkind when they are behind a screen.

Face to face, however, common ground may be hard to find, but it’s more possible to find it, I believe, when we connect ‘in person’.

As for social media, want a lively debate? I’m there.

Reckless gossip and downright lies? Not in a million years.