Most of us are locked into Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms. Many of us are constantly checking updates, seeking new links, posting pictures, being fully engaged in likes, comments and gossip. Some folks are constantly posting ‘selfies,’ constantly updating what they are doing and their locations and there are pictures of each event that takes place in their lives. There is nothing wrong with such actions, but sometimes it might be risky when people one may not know personally are privy to every movement one makes in their life. And then there are those who appear narcissistic by the way they seek attention on social media. These folks are obsessed with likes and complimentary comments and are distressed if they feel enough attention is not given to what they post.
Nevertheless, social media is a great creation, which has certainly improved the world in which we live. I remember the excitement of connecting with people I had lost contact with when I had my first social media page on Hi5. But with the advent of Facebook, an even bigger world became accessible. You were able to see pictures of family and friends who lived in other places, chat and experience those connections that we all crave as human beings.
Social media is also a vehicle through which we are kept informed of what is going on in the rest of the world. We are living in an age where information is easily accessible and once you are connected, you are in the know.
Social media is also an empowering tool for folks who may be otherwise shy or reserved. However, social media is also a platform for the generation and perpetuation of hatefulness—hatefulness that has been a factor in destroying friendships, creating avoidable conflicts and sometimes even causing an end to marriages and serious relationships. In some cases, people have been bullied on social media, which has led to them doing harm to themselves. There are incidents where because of attacks on social media, people would have lost their lives. We have seen the ugliness where folks expose their prejudice or racism unrestrained. Behind a computer, people may feel invincible and often you find what they may not necessarily say in person, they would type on a computer or other device.
I have had to make some deliberate decisions about how I engage myself on social media. I do believe that people judge you by what you put out there and even though their opinion should not matter, it can do damage. I have made some decisions like to not get into arguments over silly things, to not bash people, to not post anything lewd and such. But even with those decisions, there are times when one forgets and lets their emotions take control. My recent slip up that I wrote about last week, when I got into a religious argument with a friend, is proof of that. Human nature does not always allow us to think things through.
Sometimes, when the ugliness of social media rears its head, we might take the issue lightly initially, but when things begin to escalate we often have to take a step back and assess the situation. In some instances, we have to get involved in damage control. When it gets to a point where there are attacks on people that are not evidence-based, the intention can be seen as the need to hurt in any way possible.
The Facebook ‘cuss out’ phenomenon is similar to the ‘cuss outs’ we witness in the streets, but the difference is, ‘cuss outs’ in the streets boil down to words that are said and may hurt at the time, but the evidence of those words is only as permanent as memory. With social media, the written words can be permanent even if the source from they originated deletes them afterward because one often has little or no control over what people save or share.
At some point, there are lines that should be drawn, and that should not be crossed. Issues like attacking children, condemning young people, making a mockery of people’s sexuality, making a mockery of people’s beliefs, posting graphic images and engaging in things of a racist nature are some of the things that we should try to avoid.
But many of us have often gotten carried away with engaging in such and sometimes it is not until after the fact that regret steps in and we realise what we should not have done or said. Of course, there are people who have no regrets because they choose not to acknowledge the hurt they cause.
We have seen cases where embarrassing videos of people have been released to social media as well as embarrassing pictures and memes. In the case of memes, any picture you post can be taken and used for entertainment or to mock you. In cases where the intention is hate, the information on the meme does not have to be true, but once it is released to social media, the gullible will believe anything.
We each have a responsibility as to how we conduct ourselves on social media.
We all have different ways of expressing ourselves and that is our right. Diversity is what makes us strong as a nation but social media brings out the worst in many of us. Nevertheless, there is always room for redemption. We can begin to change the way we operate on social media by making conscious decisions to create platforms for uplifting and educating others. And even though there are those times when we will be provoked or attacked on social media, we are in control of how we respond. The strife and ugliness can only grow if we choose to give life to it.