Social media’s favourite complaint is social media itself, it seems. Recalling what I’ve read online lately, it’s invasive, it’s cruel, it’s relentless, it’s an inane time-suck, it robs normally halfway-reasonable people of whatever filter they had… the list (or feed, if you will) of grievances goes on.
But social networks are only as awful as the behaviour of their users, and while it’s tempting to take to Twitter to rail against a perceived slight from a barista, post the latest Reaction That Will Shock You to Facebook, or urge your friends to “Share if you agree!”, it’s important to remind yourself that not every one of these compulsions should be acted upon. Social media is not unlike real life in that your actions have consequences, they serve as a reflection of yourself and affect how others perceive and interact with you… and your past can absolutely come back to haunt you.
Here, I offer a handful of basic, easy-to-remember rules to help you not be a jerk on the Internet.
Pick your battles
Only a tiny fraction of trolls — those with measurable followings and real-world influence — actually deserve to be acknowledged, much less engaged with. Most of the time, muting or blocking them is the best course of action. Arguing with every #MGTOW bonehead on the Internet will not only hold you in a state of sustained anxiety, it will keep you online or checking your phone all day long. And what kind of life is that?
When there is a battle to be fought, don’t play dirty. Avoid vulgar language and calling people names; don’t make outrageous proclamations that you can’t possibly defend. Which brings me to…
Don’t talk nonsense
Make sure all your serious statements can be backed up by at least two verifiable sources; sources that are widely considered to be credible by various actors in whatever debate you are engaging in.
And make sure your jokes are actually funny. Garbage belongs in a landfill.
Above all, post with intention. Before sending that thought into the world, ask yourself what point you’re trying to make. If what you’re sharing to social media doesn’t inform, delight, or entertain, there’s a good chance that it’s not very useful. A glut of useless posts makes for a useless account – one that others won’t think twice about unfollowing.
When navigating the often-perilous waters of social media, it can be helpful to have a support system to make sure your posts set the right tone and use the most effective language for the platform. Social networks are different, and messages translate differently across platforms. Generally speaking, there’s a regrettable lack of civility and tolerance on Facebook and Twitter in particular, but individuals and brands sometimes have no choice but to defend themselves.
If you find yourself wondering if you’re speaking out in an appropriate way, it would also be wise to consult guidelines that govern broadcast media in your market (like, in our case, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council’s code of ethics). Many of these rules are sensible, rooted in established political science and won’t impede your ability to express yourself – and they may also save you from saying something unfortunate and damaging.
Allow me to close by invoking my favourite hobby, SHOPPING: There’s a growing inclination, especially amongst elder millennials who are now firmly and irreversibly in their thirties, to eschew fast fashion and cheaply-made products in favour of durable, purposefully-crafted items. It seems natural to apply that same philosophy to one’s conduct on social media: Make sure that what you’re putting out there is quality, made with kindness and a respect for the world around you.
Jessica Mailas is managing partner, content at TNKR Media.
photo: Richard Lee/Unsplash.com