Sometimes there is an element missing in social media. Most often this is a point of “politesse” as is said in French; a sense of being polite. What is said through social media may not have the same level of courtesy as our conversations day to day. Why is this? Why should one form of conversation be any less polite than the other? Perhaps anonymity has a bearing on us.
As well, we see people in social media as far away, and our engagement with others is as limited as turning off an app or the phone itself. Our engagement ends there and what is said up to that point has few repercussions in our regular life.
Whatever the reason, the result can be that people in the online environment are left with feelings of hurt, of being bullied, rage or undervalued. Of course, this is not at all what we are called to do as Christians in the world.
The online environment is such that messages can, and are, frequently misconstrued, misinterpreted in tone and intensity. Even in the early days of e-mail, we realised that we should not use all-caps because they denoted anger and aggression.
While we learned how to read through the text and avoid our interpretation of emotion and meaning that might not be there, we have not learned the same with even more reduced messages in social media.
An important difference between social media/e-mail interaction and in-person conversations is the aspect of non-verbal communication, which is absent in the online environment other than video links and YouTube posts.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they are the children of God.”
When we speak to each other face-to-face, we are able to see the non-verbal part of the conversation – the expression of the face, the eyes, forehead and lips. Even in a telephone conversation we get to hear the tone in the voice, but not so in Twitter and Facebook or the myriad of texting apps.
Many social media messages are brief messages of bare words on a screen which carry a meaning based on our interpretation of the words and sentences for good or bad.
If this is the case, is there something we can do to be sure that we are not angered or disappointed by what we see in messages and posts online? How can we avoid an escalation into arguments which can lead eventually to blocking someone after the worst has been said?
If communication breaks down on either side, it is very difficult to re-connect and re-establish the links and trust again. And if blocked will likely be impossible.
It might be worth remembering a few key points:
- Always be polite, words hurt
- What is written remains on the Internet
- Don’t SHOUT
- Never write what you would not say in person or want said to you
- Don’t be invasive
- Be prepared to listen even when not in agreement
- Post online as if you had to add your name and address
Remember to treat others with the same respect and vocabulary you would have them treat you. Be thoughtful, courteous and generous. Just as the business world seeks best practice, so to in social media we should look to best manners on the Internet world as in life generally.