Social Incivility and Social Media

I’ve been reminded again just this week how unkind and angry social media can be.  Facebook and Twitter are two places where people like to express their strong political, social and moral opinions.

In recent months I’ve often been taken aback by how strongly and forcefully some people are willing to push their opinions.  I see people post statements and ideas that I doubt they would be willing to share face to face with all their friends.  I think they would realize that not all of their friends would agree with them.  Or they would realize from body language and facial expression when they are saying something that might hurt someone.

But on Facebook people blare their opinions seeming, at times, to have no regard for who they may be hurting, who they may be causing pain, and which of their friends or aquaintances may feel assaulted by the way the opinon is expressed.  Often they are even posting these statements to “public” and not just in a circle of friends.

I’ve always known I’ve had friends of many differing political, religious, and social perspectives.  I’ve learned over the year which friends are comfortable with which topics and which issues are difficult for people.  But Facebook posting seems to toss a lot of that discretion out of the window.  People just say whatever pops into their head without the usual social filtering that allows us to be a civil society because they aren’t actually talking face to face with anyone in particular.  I have probably been guilty of this myself at some time because it is so easy to post what you are thinking.

I fear what I’m seeing develop on Facebook is a culture of incivility.  I see a lot of people saying, “I have a right to my opinion and I’m going to say it no matter what you think!!” when they would never be so brash or unkind in the way they presented themselves in person.  When some hotbutton issue like the recent discussion on Chic-Fil-A is in the media Facebook nearly boils and seeths with anger and venom.

More than one friend of mine in the past few months has told me just how someone hurt them, insulted them, or made them feel bad about themselves because of something said or done on Facebook by someone else they thought to be their friend.

Some how we need to develop social cues for Social Media the way we have developed body language and facial expressions to better communicate with each other in personal conversation.  We have to find ways to tone down the angry words, pushy and insulting jpgs, and venom laden posts otherwise Facebook will only become a place for social bullies.

I like Facebook for keeping up with friends who I no longer live near.  I use it for casual commincation and sharing ideas.  I like Facebook groups for promoting activities and interests.  But if Facebook becomes primarily a place for people to vent their spleen on all their “friends” I may find myself looking for other venues to spend time and make connections with the friends.

John Wesley had three simple rules that he liked to share with early Methodists.  “Do good, do no harm, and stay in love with God.”  I think it is time for at least some using social media to think harder about doing no harm.