Deep discussion concerning the effects of social media on the human psyche seem to be popping up with a new fervor. Just recently Instagram implemented a trial program in Canada which hides the amount of likes on a posted photo. My initial reaction was, “Who cares?”. Then, I instinctively reached for my phone to see if an earlier picture was seen by friends and if it garnered any likes. Touché, Instagram, Touché. My wheels started turning, mulling over social media. Although most of the emphasis seems to be placed on how social media affects our mental health, I would argue that there is a larger problem. The most prominent problem with social media, to me, is the absence of manners.
Human beings as a whole are social creatures who crave affection and acceptance. We need to forge relationships with others as part of our human makeup. Enter a new way to achieve this: Social Media. Everyone makes their lives public and accessible to the world online, vulnerably airing grievances and victories while obscuring the lines of privacy. Social media makes us feel connected without having to do any of the hard work associated with fostering a sustainable relationship to another person. The byproduct of the quickly forged relationships becomes an air of entitlement to interject our opinion under the supposition of “we are friends online”.
Perhaps that is the problem. The internet is a public domain. Comments are left by strangers, not friends, written on anonymous keyboards. Typing comments takes out of the equation the uncomfortable feelings that accompany having to navigate human emotions and confrontation. One can be callous and mean because one cannot physically register the hurt and pain brought upon by their actions. Human decency becomes obscured.
What makes people feel entitle to criticize total strangers on the internet? I am not sure what the driving force behind negative engagement on benign topics really is. My guess is under the guise of taking offense, anything can be taken personally and therefore commented upon. Or more often, unhappiness with life circumstances and boredom come into play. I most often see negativity phrased as innocent “education” from the commentator. The commentator, a subject matter expert, finds it their “civic duty” to inform an author on their misgivings about life. I find this dismissive and condescending. No, naysayer, you aren’t trying to “inform” anyone about anything. You feel compelled to comment because an emotional trigger was pushed when reading a post, igniting an unconstructive and volatile response which serves no other purpose than to feed a personal agenda and make oneself feel superior or vindicated
“Trolling” is partially a result of the fact that there are zero consequences to online actions. Quite like young children adults will do things they know are not polite or purposefully hurtful if there are no consequences. It’s not like internet police exist. Before the internet if there was an issue there had to be a direct confrontation of two individuals. There had to be a resolution to the conflict and each person had to feel comfortable with the consequences of their words in real time. Sometimes this would result in actual fist fights. There was no keyboard to hide behind. Before speaking you better be so emboldened by your convictions that the real threat of bodily harm would not dissuade you. It was a cut and dry process now muddied by invisible webs of infrastructure that delicately ensnare most of the world. Social etiquette for online behavior has not caught up with the mannerisms acceptable in a real-life face to face conversation.
We cannot deny that our modern world is overrun with technology and that is not going to change. So, when will our standards for acceptable online behavior catch up to the new means by which most personal relationships are formed? I have what I like to call the “mother” clause for online etiquette as a possible solution. It should prominently display on social platforms as a litmus test before one can select post for a comment. It should state:
“If you would say this to someone’s face and you are okay with the emotional reaction that may follow, please proceed. However, if the comment you are about to post if said aloud would cause someone to feel socially responsible to redirect your misguided hate, think twice. Remember, just because you cannot feel or see physical responses from others does not mean you have not caused disruption in another human life. And as always, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all (Thumper).” Thanks, Mom.”
Let’s get this straight. It is your choice to click follow or like. No one makes you read internet stories or posts. And if they don’t bring you joy, then clean out your feed. No one needs more negativity in the world. There are enough things in the tangible world to make a person feel insecure and flawed. Perhaps it’s time to look internally and see how to foster existing healthy relationships in our lives instead of promoting an online presence which may or may not flourish at the expense of some mental anguish caused by complete strangers. It’s time to quit viewing social interactions as inconveniences and start embracing them for what they are…sparks that cause the human heart to ignite and feel connected. So, here is your call to action: phone a friend, set up a coffee date and show up. Turn off your phone and be present. See how that makes you feel. My guess is your day will be better for it.