Anti-Social Social Media

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking • For September 24 weekender, 2016

Anti-Social Social Media

David W. Hegg

If you thought social media was just a passing fad, you’re surely missed the train. What used to happen over the fence with neighbors, or around the water cooler at the office is now occurring every minute as isolated amateurs masquerading as social critics launch thoughts and opinions out into cyberspace. And, apparently, we find it titillating and, too often, consider what we read to be true.

But consider this. At the back fence, or around the water cooler, or even on the telephone, there was some relationship between author and audience as gossip, slander, and invective were passed along. And this relationship tempered things. There was no wall of anonymity to hide behind, holding all parties accountable to preserve a modicum of civility. But all that has changed.

When I was young, growing up in Spokane, our home was one house away from a busy street. That meant my buddies and I could stand in our back yard, and fling apples and prunes over the adjacent yard, out into the street hoping to hit a passing car. At the time we had no thought as to the potential harm we were bringing to the cars, much less the danger we were putting motorists in should a barrage of apples suddenly smash into their windshields. All we thought about was anonymity. We were at a safe distance from the avenue, with at least three escape routes should the need to flee arise.

Of course, eventually my parents caught on, and that was the end of it. Fortunately, our aim was horrible and I don’t think we hit any cars. Yet, my father took opportunity both to apply disciplinary measures and maximize a teachable moment. Truthfully, I can’t remember what form the discipline took, but I’ll never forget what I learned: If you can’t do it in the open, it’s almost certainly not something you should do.

 Social media, like Facebook for example, has made throwing apples from the backyard into a national pastime. But, before you start flinging insults, invective, and inane reflections on life, consider this:

Everything you post on social media is out there forever. It can be used by prospective employers, salespersons, attorneys, and others who may wind up positions to use your own words against you.

Also, consider the true impact of your posts. While you may sit in your den, or office and dash off searing criticism, insulting videos, and a host of other inane declarations and reflections, what effect are you really having on public opinion? Do you honestly think the world sits around waiting to hear your viewpoint? Do you believe the masses wake up wondering what will fill your day, pique your interest, or enflame your outrage.

Consider this. When you post a comment, or a criticism, or share that slanderous video,

it is like throwing a grain of sand onto the Santa Monica beach. It falls unimpressively into myriad others grains of sand, losing any chance of gaining lasting significance.

 

Certainly social media has its place. I find Facebook a nice way to keep up with my children, and friends living around the globe. I enjoy bits of news, and an occasional nifty recipe for making a scrumptious breakfast casserole. But we must recognize it can never be a substitute for real conversation, trustworthy information, or significant news reporting.

 

More and more we are becoming a society tethered to technology as a way of life. Facebook has – ironically - greatly minimized “face-to-face” communication. But we must reject the notion electronics can become a suitable substitute for human interaction and intimacy. Real relationship comes with built-in rules for which we hold ourselves accountable in order to enjoy the benefits of mutual investment. It is far too easy to allow technology to erode the basic elements upon which relational trust is grounded. It is far too easy to stand in the backyard and fling apples, while remaining blind to the ways we are endangering others and ourselves by collapsing relationship into selfish anonymity.

 

My father said it best. If you have to hide your actions and intentions, you’re already on the wrong road. What we need is less anonymity and much more honesty. Maybe what we really need is a return to knowing our neighbors, conversing over the back fence, and reminding ourselves how great face-to-face relationships really can be.