duty_callsAka, the internet is not your friend

We see it over and over again:  a blog post or Facebook status goes horribly awry as the poster forgets that they are on the internet and anyone can see and jump into a conversation, then drama is up and running.  Having spent the weekend watching friends go at it on FB, I couldn’t help but think that if such an internet kerfluffle rose any higher than the level of minor annoyance for the user, they may need to re-think how they use social media.

I’m saying this as a person who has been on the receiving and giving end of online drama.  I’ve done my share of stupid on the internet.  But I think there are some things to consider moving forward. Let’s call these my social media rules of engagement:

1) If you’re my friend and you say or do something dumb on the internet, I will do my level best to give you a head’s up that you may want to re-think your course of action.  If you choose to not do so, know that I will point and laugh at you.  KNOW THIS.  I will call my friends and point and we will laugh at you.  I’m sorry if you react badly to that.

2) Remember, there is a person behind those words and people have feelings.  An “apology” may be the go to move to diffuse a brewing online brouhaha, but if you go on to justify your actions, make your case, or apologize for how someone may have reacted or felt, those aren’t apologies.   “I’m sorry that you took it that way” is not an apology.  Apologies aren’t apologies if they are qualified.  What I did in point #1, was an example of this.  I am not truly sorry.  I will give the illusion of an apology for my attitude in point number one if that makes you feel better.  That’s all such an apology offers.

When a real friend has been hurt by my words, regardless of my intent or even how they may have mistook them, I apologize and am done.  There have been those rare times when I’ve been an ass. Things got said, things which couldn’t be unsaid. Have I mentioned that I may or may not have been an ass? Regardless, there were hurt feelings and definitely damaged relationships. I do know this: I apologized. Then I demonstrated the sincerity of my apology by living it out. Believe me, it takes time and work to repair the damage of even a few careless words.

twitter fail3) Ostensibly we writer types are professional communicators, so we know how tough it can be to convey our intended meaning.  At the same, we can’t tell people how they should react to or feel about our words.  We can’t account for the tone people may read into our words.  People don’t like to be talked down to and will react poorly to that perceived tone.

4)  The internet is forever.  It’s nice to believe that once stuff has been deleted then the matter is closed.  Know that the entire exchanged was probably screen captured.  Those of us who love to watch crazy break out on the internet want to preserve it in a virtual photo album to re-visit later.

5)  You need to be mindful of how your online persona may impact you career.  This is tough to come to terms with, but we are public figures speaking in public forums/space.  And words mean things.  We have to do things like carefully consider both our words and our online/social media personas.  I sometimes miss the days when I could just pop off at the mouth and say anything I bloody well felt like.  Don’t get me wrong, I still can, I just have to be prepared to deal with the consequences of that if that’s how I want to be online or otherwise.

As you publish more stories and make more friends, there are more eyes on you.  You have to consider that.  You can’t judge by comments or likes or how many direct messages or even hits you receive.  You never know who or how many people are watching what you write/say.  Be aware of your potential audience.  I am much more free with my words and nonsense on my twitter than I am on my Facebook page.  Is it because I have more followers on my Facebook page?  No, it’s because my mom follows me on Facebook (as do a lot of church folks).  I’m only going to cut so much of a fool over there.  On the other hand, my mom has no clue what a tweet is or where to find one.

As a corollary, if you have a professional page and a personal page, lockdown your personal page.  As an example, Brian Keene has a professional page and a personal page.  GUARANTEED, his personal page would have him strung up.  He’s got it locked down to just real world friends and family.  People who know him well enough to, well, forgive him for being him.  And who he trusts to not cut and paste his words.  Which leads into…

6)  Be opinionated, but be sensitive. I’m not saying don’t talk about issues that matter to you or express “controversial” opinions.  I’m saying be mindful about what you’re doing, not flippant.  I have written about race issues, faith issues, and political issues (including being pro life) without the internet landing on my head.  Too much.  I try to remember that people have differing (and equally valid) opinions, triggers, and baggage, so I try to at least be civil when I fail to be sensitive.

For example, you’ll note that sexism is not in that list.  I have opinions, but I don’t consider them informed enough to risk talking about them publically.  They are definitely not informed enough to go round and round with someone who’s informed enough on the conversation to start dropping jargon like “mansplaining” on me.  I know enough to check my privilege and call it a day.  I’m not saying that’s how everyone should roll, I’m simply saying how *I* choose to roll.  But I will stand by “be mindful” when you are discussing topics you know are near and dear to people’s hearts.

7)  People have the right to say what they want, but there are consequences to that speech.  Real world friends have a different measuring stick that “Facebook friends”/acquaintances.  I’m going to hold my real friends to a different standard.  That being said, if I’m in an internet kerfluffle with a real world friend, I’m probably going to withdraw to the real world to break them off a phone call to make sure we’re okay or where we missed each other in the online conversation.  Because sometimes the text of our words can’t carry all that we intend to convey.

8)  Know who you’re arguing with.  Okay, so last Thanksgiving my brother, my sister, her boyfriend, and I were sitting around annoying each other on Twitter.  My brother gets a wild hair up his behind to “go at” my sister.  Me and her boyfriend tried to warn him off, because my sister is a veteran on Twitter and my brother had only just learned how to spell “tweet”.  It took about two tweets from my sister to send my brother screaming for her to “take that off the internet” (which she did … after she screen captured it and sent it to me).  My take home lesson from this:  if you encounter a person who has built their reputation and following from causing a ruckus, unless you’re prepared to cause a ruckus (or have ruckus as your persona), you may want to go play with someone else.

9)  It’s no crime to BACK AWAY FROM THE INTERNET!  People don’t know how to walk away from a conversation (see “last word-itis”).  If you want to “agree to disagree,” then quit talking and move on.  I know that if I have a bunch of real world issues going on, then I BACK AWAY FROM THE INTERNET!  I can only think of one time when an online argument continued after I stopped talking.  The woman went on to make 20 posts, essentially responding to herself, then responded for me, then responding “my” responses she made for me.  Allow me to assure you, I did not look like the crazy person at that point.  I know that “last word-itis” is a common internet condition, but I have learned how to bite my tongue until it bleeds if I have to.

10) Lastly, don’t take yourself too seriously.  Pride can get in the way of a lot of relationships of all sorts and keep us from seeing discussions and people as they are.  While I am not exactly Captain Cuddly, I appreciate the voices of those in my life who care enough about me to call me on my crap.  Relationships will need some room and time to repair, but I have no doubt that if the work is put in that will happen.

There, now I’ve had a crazy long blog, watch as I hit post … THEN BACK AWAY FROM THE INTERNET.