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.