When we go out to eat at a nearby restaurant, shop in local stores or attend a high school ballgame, do you know what never happens?
Nobody yells at us.
Nobody takes a chair at our dinner table and begins to lecture us.
Nobody stops our shopping cart and tells us how we’re doing it all wrong.
For the most part, people are kind and considerate, and in matters of conflict or questioning, they seem to display behavior that is more helpful than blaming or damaging.
But our behavior in public is so vastly different from the behavior that is seen on social media and online forums.
Imagine walking up to a person you don’t know enjoying a vanilla ice cream and attacking them verbally while accusing them of hating chocolate ice cream. It would never happen. But somehow that behavior happens every day on social media.
Now, I am fully aware that not everyone behaves terribly on social media. Certainly, a few bad apples are the ones spoiling the bunch. But why is it affecting us all so much?
There aren’t too many people I know who aren’t periodically beaten down after a visit to their Facebook or Twitter account.
How many times do you hear people close the screens on their phone with an accompanying sigh, grunt or groan?
Of course, the majority of this angst during each visit to the social media channels can be pinpointed down to posts pertaining to politics or social issues.
According to an August report by the Pew Research Center, 46% of social media users in the United States said they are worn-out by political posts and discussions and another 68% said it is stressful and frustrating to discuss issues with people they disagree with politically.
It means the interactions that happen in a digital space designed for keeping tabs on friends and family and sharing ideas and information has become a tool that is affecting our physical and mental health.
That’s not OK.
If you’d told me 10 years ago that I would feel physically ill or enraged after reading some posts on Facebook, I would have laughed at you. But this place is where we are and this frustration is how a lot of us feel.
Now, as a man approaching his 50s, I would love to blame all this on those young people who don’t know anything while thinking they know everything.
But I can’t.
The majority of disrespectful social behavior that I witness on my own accounts is coming from adults well into their 30s, 40s, 50s and even 60s. The same people that smile when you pass them on the street, the same people who share photos of their grandchildren playing in a backyard pool are the same people lashing out in written form at those they disagree with politically or socially.
More and more, I am finding people behaving badly on social media and forums over things that have nothing to do with politics, social issues and religion – the big three.
Look, I am no angel, that’s for sure. I have engaged in debates with those on the other side of my views and have written things that I would never say to that same person’s face. What have I accomplished in behaving that way? Nada.
I have found a middle ground that works for me. I know that I can delete a friend whose views are offensive to me in the same way I would stop associating with a friend who slapped me in the face. I am OK with that stance, but I also realize that it limits my scope of perspective. By interacting with mostly those who don’t offend me on social media, I have to force myself to seek out those opposing views that are healthy to personal development.
Fortunately, as the director of engagement and digital editor for Valley News and Village News, I am exposed to those views on a daily basis. I read and post hundreds of articles every day.
We have recently added to our platform news from the region, state, nation and world and not everyone loves it. The comments flow in from those folks; the criticisms are often overdramatic, unnecessarily accusatory and patently false.
The responses have been pretty equal in blame: the Village News and Valley News are too conservative and too liberal at the same time.
For your information that means we’re doing it the right way.
For those looking to place Village News and Valley News into a politically-affiliated box – good luck. Our job, first and foremost, is to present the news and content that will benefit our readership.
Sometimes you will agree with it. Sometimes you won’t. But we will continue to present that news responsibly and fairly – because our readers aren’t one person, they aren’t a group of people and they aren’t one political party or the other.
We encourage everyone to engage in the conversation we are helping to facilitate – we only ask that you do so in a way that is respectful and beneficial to the conversation.
Our society is so big. Our views are so diverse. Our experiences are so vastly different.
Can we just allow people the freedom to express themselves without feeling as though we should attack them? Might that help our overall psyche and emotional well-being – then ultimately help our social media communities be less of an emotional battlefield?
Remember what our parents always told us? “Mind your business, be accountable for what you say and do, and be respectful of everyone.”
It’s not that hard; what do you say we try it?
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.