The Internet: Part information superhighway, part Eternal Troll Cave of Fathomless Depths. I used to love it. As someone whose driving motivation was understanding and solving social problems, I saw Facebook as my personal megaphone. It was a towering soapbox from which I could denounce the social/political/moral evils surrounding me.
I would type out a fiery diatribe and gleefully hit send, shocked when my condescending drivel wasn’t readily embraced by the masses. Yes, I would think, I’m making a stand. I’m speaking up for what’s right: me.
Wait. Aren’t you a Christian? You guys are all about denouncing some moral evils, right?
Yes. I am called to put a stop to thoughts and behaviors that are contrary to loving God and neighbor. But I’m supposed to do that in my own life before I even think of “helping” someone else “see the error of their ways”. Reminds me of a quote I saw today by St. Maximos the Confessor:
Focusing on changing everyone on my News Feed for the better renders my own change null and void? Dag. Is it just me, or do the Saints straight-up roast people sometimes?
Beyond that, I’m starting to believe it’s impossible to have meaningful discussion [read: debate] on social media. Why?
- I could be wrong. There, I said it. Hey, anything’s possible.
- I can be right and still be mean or condescending about it. And that’s wrong.
- I could assume someone I don’t agree with is bad or evil, without knowing all the facts (which I never will anyway). And that’s judging.
- I will probably get angry more quickly (and for longer) online than I would in person. The vitriol/intensity of the Internet and the way opinions are written there makes it a breeding ground for angry, spiteful and otherwise violent communication.
- It’s public. Eliminating the privacy of a face-to-face conversation almost guarantees that someone else will weigh in, take something out of context, gang up on one of us, and so on.
When I disagree with, denounce, or vilify someone else’s perspective/political party/difference of opinion online, they can see it. [Even if I passive-aggressively Vaguebook about how wrong “some people” are on my own timeline.] And everyone else we’re friends with can see it, too. Not to mention our little tête à tête is saved for posterity. Plus there’s never really been a time when I’ve thought: Wow. That gloves-are-off Facebook debate really brought us closer.
So, if I’m going to post something online, I start with asking myself something simple: why am I sharing this?
- Because I’m angry?
- To declare how right I am?
- To declare how wrong you are?
- To make “the other side” [or people who identify with them] look bad, or foolish?
If the answer is yes, I need to re-think. As cheesy as this little mnemonic is, it’s really helpful for us social media mavens:
The first time I saw this, I thought something alone the lines of: well, guess I have to delete Facebook and stop blogging. I didn’t blog or stir the pot on Facebook for months. I tried my hand at holding my tongue (my success varied widely from day to day). And while I try to be much more careful about the tone of what I post now than I used to, I still believe social media and blogging are powerful ways of sharing new ideas, and building connections rooted in empathy rather than same-ness of opinion.
Filtering what I share doesn’t mean I can’t post about tricky issues or things I care about, or that I’m suggesting Shrinking Violet is the New Black. My desire for a peaceful newsfeed does not cancel out my strong convictions. The key is changing the focus of the material I post from “what they’re doing wrong” to “what’s helping me do better”.
What did this teach me?
How is this helping me be a better human?
What about this situation worries or troubles me?
I know this is a problem. What is a solution I can realize in my day to day interactions and/or in my community?
If my main goal really is to change myself for the better, I can share things in terms of what I learned, or how something helped me change my perspective. If something is important to me, I can simply say that before sharing, without bringing what “some people” think into it. If someone misspeaks online and the error could hurt them or others, I can do my best to gently present my point of view.
All in all, I’m learning it’s best for my peace of mind (and my relationships) not to get too deep into a Facebook face-off. In general, I think the tricky things are best discussed with a friend, over cold beer and Hot Chicken.