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8 Things to Consider Before You Click “Send”

Nov 25, 2014

Is it just me or do things seem to be getting more negative online? 

Photo Credit: Harald Schnitzler via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Harald Schnitzler via Compfight cc

Whether it is the cantankerous nature of the just completed political season or the response to continuing cultural changes, a daily scroll through my social media feeds makes me ponder some wisdom my mom shared with me a long time ago.

I remember numerous occasions as a kid when I opened my mouth and inserted my foot to the point where I was gagging myself. Embarassed and frustrated, I would inevitably end up in a conversation with my mom or dad about my predicament. My mom would remind me of an important truth – “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”.

Do you ever wish the people you follow on Twitter or the people you are friends with on Facebook would apply this wisdom to the way they act online?
In writing about this subject, Andy Williams said,

“Social has made it too easy to comment on anything and everything and it has become part of life that you own a Twitter or Facebook account. Apps are available for you to use these platforms on the go. Updating these accounts for most is a daily occurrence and just part of what you do. So the fact that we now use these platforms to complain shouldn’t be a shock. We do it without even thinking about it. Suddenly all these brands are contactable. We can visit their profiles and leave comments; we can include their handle in a Tweet and talk to them directly. To a large extent the fact that this can be done pretty facelessly only serves to further encourage us to have a dig at any brand or company that has upset us. Sure it comes via our profiles for all to see but we don’t have to talk to them while having a rant meaning that even the most timid of us can join in without the fear or having to actually talk to anyone.”

As a pastor, I have received numerous emails where the typed words went far beyond what would have been said to my face. Due to the way we relate today, individuals typed out those critiques and emailed them to me anyway. When I sought a face-to-face meeting with the person who was frustrated, the conversation changed drastically and the person who was a lion behind the keyboard became a mouse in the meeting.

The trouble is, I am just as culpable as the lion-mice. There are times where I wrote an email when I was far more “courageous”, only to hit delete and have a very different conversation in person.

If you send emails, use social media or exchange with other people electronically, my concern in bringing up the subject is not to chastise you.

Rather, I want to spark reflection (individually and collectively) about the value of going negative on social media. I have watched far many relational conflicts begin and perpetuate because of the medium in which the conversation happened.

As we engage in the apps and tools at our fingertips, I wonder if we should be asking ourselves some intentional questions.

“I now have the technological ability to do this…but should I?”
“What impact does this technology have on my ability to process negative experiences?”
“Is it possible that it is too easy for me to rush to __________? Should I sleep on this before I say it?”

While you are welcome to post whatever you want on your social media platforms, I have 8 reasons why you should think twice when hitting publish on social media.

1. Your unfiltered posts reveal who you are.

We have the ability to post a new status or send out a tweet before we can process what is going through our mind. The process of “type, tweet, think” produces sharing without reflection. We may not be showing our truest selves, but the selves we are showing are true. It is very difficult to be someone you are not online. Eventually, online posers get found out. We cannot get away with saying “that was not me” when we are talking about something that comes from our avatar or profile.

2.  Someone you know may be closer to the subject than you realize.

While posting online, we sometimes misunderstand the impact of our post upon the diverse community that follows us or call us “friend.” Earlier, this summer, I made a “complaining” post about an incident with a local municipal department, regarding their handling of an issue on my street. My post caught the attention of one of my someone in my network who (unbeknownst to me) worked for that same department whose communication ability I was questioning. While I did not think my comments would impact anyone, I was reminded how our world is getting smaller and smaller. If we go far enough in our network, we will discover someone we know who is connected to the subject of our post. Sometimes, much faster than we would anticipate.

3. Nuance, tone, and texture are difficult to discern in 140 characters.

How many people do you know who have ended up in a spat over how someone interpreted a post they read online? A word is mistranslated by autocorrect. A response gets cut off. The nonverbal cues which permeate a face-to-face dialogue are nowhere to be found on an iPhone. Have you ever been in one of these e-conflicts? Consider this great reminder – If your communication needs to be interpreted, it probably should change venues. Interpretation becomes easier the further you move from electronic and the closer you get to in-person.

4. You feel more bold and courageous when looking at those pixels…sometimes too bold.

We’ve all had those moments where we were a lion in the car, but a mouse in the meeting. We psyched ourselves up – we were going to let “them” have it. But when the moment came, we held back. It is a lot easier to be bold and courageous to your mirror than a real person. However, interacting online feels more like talking to a mirror than a person. The negativity we find and create is often a result of unrestrained boldness without the governor of facing the person or people under attack. It is much easier to assault an avatar than a flesh-in-blood person.

5. Consistent negative posts can lead other people to tune you out and marginalize you.

Think about it. When it comes to the people you follow, friend or like, who have you blocked? Whose posts are now hidden? Whose posts do you gloss over? “Those people” drive us nuts that we just tune them out. Rarely, though, do we have the self-awareness to comprehend where we are doing the same thing. Even if we are “right” in our point-of-view, we may be communicating it in a similar manner to those people we sanctimoniously block. I think we often treat other people as if the rules which apply to them do not apply to us. We block out the “Negative Nancy” we know, while failing to notice the striking family resemblance we share.

6. Negativity sells more than positivity, so be careful of its power.

Here’s the dirty little secret about negativity – it sells. It spreads. It grows. Cable news is built on bad news, not good news. Local TV evening news is not built on feel-good stories, but tragedies. And if you look at your local news site (if you live in Arizona, think AZCentral.com or on a more global level – CNN.com) the positive posts are far less attractive and commented on than those you are negative. If you look at Facebook, it often seems the things people post that are negative get a far greater response and those are positive peer.

Even in our interactions with other people, we know the power of the negative. The half-life of a critique is far longer than the half-life of a compliment. For most of us, a compliment sends us soaring. However, when we receive criticism we can go to a very low place – a place even more severe than a compliment.

7. What we sense urgency about in the moment often fails to pass the importance test.

With that post you are typing, what are you trying to accomplish? Will it matter in 2 hours, 2 days, 2 weeks? While social media drives an immediate sense of timeliness, the desire to catch the moment can lead us to put something out we have not thought through or processed sufficiently. Sure you may be late to the party if you wait a little bit to post. Is that worth avoiding the other route – eating crow or explaining a hurried post which does not reflect what you want to be known for saying?

8. You are spending time and energy being negative where you could spend it positively elsewhere.

Getting worked up about a “controversy” you are posting about online takes time and energy away from other areas of your life. It is not too difficult to get worked up about something you seen or read online. If you feel yourself getting worked up, ask yourself, “Am I willing to sacrifice the next 15 minutes, half hour or hour being distracted by this? If so, what is going to suffer because of it?” While time management is important to master in your life, energy management is important too. Social media can be a great tool and connection venue, but when we dump all of our energy down the drain of fights and controversies, we lose an opportunity to direct our energy to a more profitable source.

I do not have an answer to the question, “when is it okay to go negative online?”

I still pause when the cursor hovers over “Publish,” asking “should I? really?” 

I have learned that I have posted far too casually in the past and I am re-examining the value of it. I encourage you to consider the power of your platform online and your voice when you type. Our words have the power of life. Whether it is an email or on social media, we are powerful.

Type carefully, my friends!

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