I was all set to write today about why you shouldn’t waste your willpower on food. Then something very unsettling happened on Facebook. Again. So this week’s post is about why and how to check our inner jerk on social media.
The Internet has a way of bringing out the worst in us. Some people believe all the Internet does is allow people to say what they were already thinking anyway. It does more. It actually empowers you to say something you would never say in person, either because you don’t have the courage or because your thoughts are too unkind or inappropriate to say to someone’s face. Some folks like to angrily hide behind their computers and throw flames at others whose reactions they do not have to deal with. That leaves those of us on the other side not understanding what the flamers were thinking and trying to piece together the possible reasons for their unfortunate behavior.
I’m pretty sure you’ve had the experience of reading a post, becoming incensed, hitting reply and starting to rapidly type an enraged response. Maybe this is a regular occurrence in your life. As a particularly emotional person, I admit that I do this periodically. Fortunately, thanks to my many years of meditation practice, I pause and read my reply over before deciding whether to post it. I think about the repercussions of actually sharing my response. Sometimes, I wait for hours or days before deciding whether to post anything. Most of the time, I just use the writing as a form of therapy and delete my response.
Okay, so my husband is now reminding me that I don’t always pause before responding to his texts, but that I’ve gotten a lot better at it. I’m still working on it!
Many people don’t pause at all. Therein lies a big problem with written forms of communication. It is easy to convey information, but far more difficult to convey your true intentions. Here’s an example.
About a year ago, two Facebook friends each posted the same Facebook hoax on their wall. You remember the one warning us that we had to post a privacy notice on Facebook to protect our privacy rights? Having been burned by spreading a rumor on Facebook years ago without checking my facts, I decided to let these friends know that this was a hoax by sending a news article about it. One of them was a cousin by marriage who I barely knew but liked very much. She replied to me with a curt retort and left her post up. The other person thanked me and took her post down.
About a week later, someone posted a hysterical parody of this hoax. I shared it on my wall. The cousin’s spouse saw it and flamed me on my Facebook wall, saying that I was clearly mentally ill, among other things. He then unfriended and blocked me. I was stunned. To me, this is a very cowardly act that is the equivalent of a bully kicking sand in your face then running away, except that he didn’t even have to look at the face into which he kicked the sand. After discussing it with my husband and other family members, we imagined that the flamer thought I posted this to make fun of his wife, which was about the furthest thing from my mind. There was a family gathering several days later that I was unable to attend, but heard that these cousins were there. What would have happened if I had shown up? Had they thought of this before posting their nastygram?
That is part of the problem. When someone you know personally acts like a jerk to you online, he doesn’t seem to be thinking about the next time you will actually meet face to face. Impulsive? Shortsighted?
This brings me to another drawback of social media: people can act offensively and cowardly without having to account for their behavior. Like the cousin. He misconstrued my intention, but chose to throw rocks at me and run away, rather than giving me a chance to respond. He could not behave that way in person.
Which brings me to the event that inspired this post. The news of Brock Turner, also known as the Stanford Rapist, and particularly his lenient sentence, has been troubling me a lot. I have posted a few times about this on social media. My most recent post was followed by the comments of five friends, all of whom were horrified by Turner’s criminal act and his pathetic sentence. Another long-time friend and classmate who I don’t often see in person read this post and comments and clearly misinterpreted all of it. He typed three quick successive responses insulting everyone who posted, telling us we were insane and needed “mental health attention.” Then after throwing his barbs at us, he unfriended and blocked me. I was aghast! Was he drunk? Was his daughter or someone close to him raped so that he couldn’t read anything about this without becoming crazed and irrational? I may never know.
The Internet has given us a vehicle for indulging our worst impulses with little accountability. While we can’t control how others use this media, I encourage everyone to consider and, when appropriate, censor your own responses. Take a breath and pause before you hit “reply” or “post” when you become angry at someone’s message. Think. Is there another way to interpret this post? Should I send a private message or email seeking clarification first? Err on the side of kindness, compassion and understanding. If we all do that, the world will be a better place.