At the same time it is easy for the internet, social media in particular, to become a place where the underside of humanity is put on display. It doesn’t take very long to come across things that don’t contribute to the good of society. With that in mind, here are a few guidelines we can all use to keep ourselves in check and make our internet experience less aggravating, less discouraging, and more helpful to us all.
[On what authority do I offer these guidelines? None. I speak as an expert in doing and saying stupid things and getting really worked up over very small issues.]
1) Don’t share things that are not true. This is called lying. Just because a photo or meme or quote agrees with your opinions does not make it true. Before you click “Share,” check the source. Is it reputable? Do an 8 second Google search. Most stats and stories can be verified or debunked quite quickly. Believe it or not, not everything on the internet is true (Bonjour!). It hurts your credibility when you share things that are false and when those things are about a person or group or political position it adds to an unhealthy polarization that has developed in our culture. When in doubt, don’t share. The world will keep right on spinning.
2) Be tactful. Sitting behind our screens has made some of us think we are pretty tough and others of us forget the whole “treat others the way you want to be treated” thing. We are quick to point out everyone else’s flaws and act like a bunch of playground bullies. We are dealing with real people with real feelings. If you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, it doesn’t need to be said online. And some things that you would say in person especially don’t need said in a public forum. Just because you think it doesn’t mean it needs to be said. Use a filter. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be considerate. Use your manners for crying out loud. I feel like we learned these lessons in kindergarten but maybe we need a refresher. This is how civilized people behave.
3) You don’t have to engage everyone who disagrees with you. This one is hard for me. It is easy to feel as if it’s our job to correct every wrong opinion we come across. As if we are some sort of keyboard crusader protecting the masses from the danger of not thinking like us. Usually our efforts are fruitless. When is the last time your opinions changed because someone pointed out how incorrect you were on Facebook? I am all for healthy dialogue and debate, but we don’t need to always be on the prowl. We should learn to be okay with people
being wrong disagreeing with us. Maybe sometimes we can just keep our thoughts to ourselves. It’s not the end of the world, we are not always right, and there are better ways to spend our time. (I am going to reread what I just wrote there.)
There are probably a lot more guidelines we could discuss (feel free to add some in the comments), but let’s work on these three for now. If we can pause our fingers long enough to avoid these pitfalls, social media will be a much better place and my blood pressure will go down. The world, not just the internet, will be more truthful, more polite, and a little more enjoyable as well.