Social Media has quickly become one of the top forms of socialization and communication. This development has allowed for a number of positive changes, but comes with many dangers as well. People have become able to keep in touch with so many more people, all with a few key strokes. It has strengthened distant family connections by allowing the sharing of stories and pictures. It has helped spread causes, shared the news, and even helped find missing people. But what about the other side? What about damage it has caused to people’s ability to form relationships outside of the internet? Social media puts a physical barrier between people. It creates a shield or mask to hide behind. It empowers people to be someone that they may be afraid to be in person and unfortunately also gives people the courage to say things they would not in person. It removes the filter that in many cases is needed and created an entirely new arena for arguments, fights, and bullying.
This is the social media shield. It’s the belief that the things typed, said, or shared do not have the same consequences as they do in real life. It’s the ability to say things with less worry about the ramifications or how it affects other people because you cannot see their face. It’s false courage with the sense that it will not carry over into the rest of your life. The problem is that it does. In extreme cases, this becomes cyber bullying. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize the dangers this presents because they don’t see the consequences, but for the victims, either direct or through witnessing it, it is devastating. In fact, the damage can be even worse than conflict and bullying directly in person because there is little to no escape from it. People have their devices and therefore social media with them at all times. It may seem like a simple solution, if it bothers you stop using social media, block people, reduce exposure, but is this fair? Would we ask the victim of in person bullying to change classes, stop going to an activity, avoid people?
The solution needs to be in the actions. It needs to start with people using the same thinking and empathy skills virtually that they would in person. Of course people will read things on the internet that will upset them or cause stress, just as they would in person. While this may cause some distress, it is not what is damaging emotionally or harming relationships. Its the sharing of opinions while attacking others. Debate his helpful, but when taking out the face to face and bringing the debate to the internet, to quickly leaves the arena of constructive and can easily become critical, cruel, or shaming. It is much easier to demean another’s opinion and assert your own when you cannot see the effect it has on a person. The problem is, not only does this form of communication become hurtful to others and damaging to relationships, in invalidates the opinion you are trying to share. People don’t hear past the hurt feelings.
So how do we break through this social media shield and stop cyber bullying? It’s simple, by using the same thinking and speaking techniques we use in person. People are people, they have the same feelings even through the internet. Take time before you type something out and think about how it might impact someone if it was said in person. Remind yourself that it will have the same effect through the computer or phone. There is an acronym that we teach people to use in person and it is still helpful in social media. Take the time to stop and think, spread information in positive manners, expand upon people’s knowledge and encourage critical thinking without being cruel, shaming, or bullying. Always remember to THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK, because even the internet can’t buffer people from your words.
T – Is it true?
H – Is it helpful?
I – Is it inspiring?
N – Is it necessary?
K – Is it kind?