Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Pitfalls of Social Media

I love social media. The amount of time I spend on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram can attest to that. I have seen so many benefits; it would be tedious to list them all. I’ll just say that my time on these three sites alone have brought me closer to family, friends, and students. It has allowed me to form new friendships. And, through Twitter, I have experienced a great deal of professional development for free while being allowed to stay home with my family.

I’m a huge fan of social media.

But, you knew there had to be a “but”, there is a downside. I often caution my students on their use of social media. I talk to them, remind them that what they share is out there and they cannot take it back. Tell them to guard their identity. I worry constantly that they will do or say something that will haunt them forever. I fret over mistakes they have not made, but are in reach, taunting – and frightening me with the possibilities.

I have seen the mean side to the internet. People gain confidence behind their screens, fingers ready to type. They say things they never would in person; at least I hope they wouldn’t. They are quick to vilify, quick to judge, quick to jump in with the angry villagers.

The internet brings us closer, the internet tears us apart.

Yesterday I arrived home and glanced at Twitter and Facebook. I learned I had missed an uproar on Twitter involving an author I happen to admire. Andrew Smith writes amazing young adult novels. I have met him and found him to be kind and generous. It seems he had given an interview recently and some in the book world took umbrage over some comments he had in regard to women. Before I got too upset, I went and read the interview. And then I reread it. And I was more confused than before.

As a woman and, I would say, a feminist, I wasn’t offended by the remarks. But, and here’s the thing, I think it is ok if you were. The way someone interprets what someone else says is personal. I would have zero issue with people asking Andrew about his remarks. I would have zero issue asking for clarification. But that isn’t what happened, or it isn’t where the discussion ended.

As humans, we are fallible. Emotions run high and we screw up. When social media is involved, it seems that we can get a false sense of our own “rightness” as others join in, and then, before you know it, you have formed the angry mob of villagers. I think that is what happened yesterday. As a result, an amazing author closed down his social media accounts and students lost a voice online that they connected with.

I teach digital citizenship to my students every year. All. Year. Long. I don’t think we can teach it enough. One thing I try to remind them, again and again, is to remember there is a real live human being on the other side. A person who has faults and strengths. A person who struggles with insecurities. A person who has cried and laughed, loved and lost, found friends and lost others. I try and remind them that we would be kinder to each other if we were sitting down over coffee (or soda, in their case). If we knew what baggage each person carried. And my reminder to them, each and every day, is to lighten the baggage of every person they meet. To ensure they do not add to it.

A good person was treated horribly yesterday on social media. And, quite possibly, it was by other good people who felt justified in what they were doing, but went too far. Way too far. This happens far too often, and not only by children, but also by so many adults too. We have but one life on this planet. Are we going to spend it spewing out poison or are we going to try and leave it a little better than we found it? You don’t make the world better by tearing down another person. You only make it better by offering them a hand, pulling them up, and beginning the conversation. I wish that had been the case yesterday on Twitter. We would all have benefited from that.