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Monday, March 28, 2016

When Social Media Isn't So Social

     We know that social media is a great way for us to be--well--social.  When done right, these various outlets are a way to build relationships, share information with friends and family across the miles, engage in meaningful discussions about current events and pop culture, share in common interests with "friends" and acquaintances, make announcements, and maybe even do a little business.  But a huge challenge in these social interchanges is actually remaining social and civil in the midst of all this sharing.  What starts off as a way to connect with people we know, and maybe even forge new relationships with people we don't know, can easily lead to a disconnect that may never be repaired.  How does that happen?
     Every post defines an individual's beliefs, interests, views, prejudices, and beefs.  Even without intent to be controversial, you can be thrust into the mire of angry disagreement because you have little control over how other people perceive what you put out there.  Voicing an opinion about almost anything will certainly lead to an opposing view by someone else.  And that would be okay if everyone knew how to oppose without being argumentative and judgmental.  I have witnessed, as I'm sure you have, some pretty nasty exchanges over topics that don't necessarily have to be controversial (i.e. parenting, body image, personal choices, news stories, etc.)  I have been subjected to backlash from certain comments I've made with one intent in mind but taken offensively by others.  Of course, anytime we post anything, it's always subject to personal scrutiny by others.  We have to recognize that whether we ask for input or not, we're going to get it.  But is this about socializing, really?
     Consider your behavior if you were in front of an individual at a backyard barbecue that they invited you to, and they casually mentioned that they'd had a great time at church the previous week and couldn't wait to go back again next Sunday.  Would you attack that person for even mentioning their enjoyment?  Would you attack them at their barbecue at which you are a guest?  Yet, I saw a friend post that she had been accused of posting too much about church.
     When it comes to other controversial topics like religion, politics, race and all such "taboo" areas, we don't often think about what we communicate to those who follow us.  You are posting to other people and not for yourself.  You are influencing in some way the people who have connected to you.  Though we certainly have the right to post whatever we choose on our pages, would you invite your black friends to your house for dinner and then proceed to trash the entire black race while they're sitting there?  Would you tell all of the gay people at your party that they're welcome to be there but then turn around and bash all gays in front of everybody else at the party?  As with any communication, we have to consider all who hear us.  Our jokes, our comments, our views--they all define us.  What do your posts say about you?  Are you a bigot, arrogant, confrontational, vulgar, unethical or a nut job?  Or would people see you as competent, compassionate, intelligent, reasonable, open, unique, thoughtful or kind?
     Social media should be social.  It's about connecting in a friendly manner and finding common interests.  It's a chance to meet people, get better acquainted, draw people to you, and learn from someone else.  If people choose to stop following you, unfriend you, disconnect you or drop you from their circle, then you might want to reconsider the picture you've painted of yourself.  It's the equivalent of an in-person social gathering, but in this scenario, you're at the barbecue sitting at a table all alone while the rest of the group is socializing at the food table.  You're being shunned because you've taken the social out of socializing.  Online behavior should be no different than in-person behavior.  Use discretion.