The Perils of a Virtual Community: Take Three Breaths

18 Jul

The Perils of Social Networks

As a blogger and someone who participates in several social media networks, including Facebook, I have been able to celebrate camaraderie and people joining together in solidarity to work, via the keyboard, to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, I have also seen a darker side of humanity, where people seem to leave their manners aside when commenting, thus at times leaving a rather acrid taste in my mouth for human connection in a virtual world.

I am often surprised and disappointed seeing people’s comfort level leaving comments on people’s post(s) that are sanctimonious, disparaging, and presumptuous.  Existing in a virtual community also means that one often does not have the advantage of knowing a person’s background or history, nor does one have the benefit of hearing an accent, cadence, or inflection. I have seen this result in people commenting while operating without a full picture or context and in a very ungenerous manner.  I have seen people threaten others with: “Change the title of this post or remove it,” “Change the title of this post and when you do, I will remove my recommendation to hide your post.”  Unfortunately, even a group of people that purport to be interested in making the world a better place can get caught up in their own egos and fall into a mob mentality, resulting in bullying behavior that feeds off of itself. Here is a pair of related examples that demonstrate how immediacy of information in social networks can be either dangerous or beneficial: Chris Rock’s ill-considered Twitter defense of Tracy Morgan and the really quite wonderful Twitter response from Wanda Sykes.


I wonder if it might be helpful for people (myself included) to take a few breaths when leaving a comment for another person. To keep in mind that we may not have the full context or backdrop for each person we interact with and it may prove beneficial to give each person the benefit of the doubt.  I wonder, if at times, it is best to say nothing at all, rather than say something ugly which you cannot take back. There is great power in social networks–in these virtual communities we have created, but there is also the equal power of damage and bullying that can occur.  I wonder if the anonymity of social networks gives voice to social bullying. Take three breaths.


6 Responses to “The Perils of a Virtual Community: Take Three Breaths”

  1. webwordwarrior July 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    Brilliant post, Michael. You have exactly captured the main reasons I am so selective about my virtual environments. The colliding factors of instantaneous publication and anonymity, mixed with the inherent ego of many who believe the ability to publish creates a demand that they be read, creates a heady, often noxious brew. Even in communities with clear guidelines, participants will argue over whose interpretation is the most sound or pure.
    Obviously I find value in the virtual world, but I do wish more participants would think before they e-speak and that they would pay more attention to common courtesy. That courtesy includes actually reading the work on which they comment and making an effort to understand what the writer intended rather than forcing other readers to see it through their lens.
    The three breath rule is great advice.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 18, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

      Lex, it was difficult for me not to refer to specific experiences, but I thought it in better taste not to do that. My next hurdle to tackle is the disproportionality of people of color represented in social media and economic determinism, as represented as institutionalized racism.

  2. Jennifer Lockett July 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    One of the many reasons I wish we would teach Digital Citizenship to kids.

    You’re right, it’s easy to lose your cool, take things to heart, not recognize tone or wit, etc. If something triggers you, taking a step back and a breath will help.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 18, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

      I suspect, people such as yourself will take on the role of modeling good “Digital Citizenship.”

      • Jennifer Lockett July 19, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

        I try, but I’m not always successful :/

        We all lose our tempers.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 19, 2011 at 8:25 pm #

        I have the benefit of knowing you. I know you may lose your temper, but you remain respectful!

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