I am a fan of how social online networking and social media can bring people together. For a long time I resisted the real power of making connections online, but in the past year I have witnessed how such relationships with others have positively impacted my life. While one still needs to have face to face human interactions (I fear some folks hide from reality and live on the internet), online relationships can help people explore and discover many things about one another.
There are many good things that comes with being active online, but there are also some dark sides that accompany the brilliance of the internet. We need to be conscious of the "icky" parts of humanity that can creep into the social online universe in order to protect ourselves and others.
I am not referring here about the pornography and predictors that litter the online landscape, although those are real dilemmas. Instead I am talking about the tendency that people have in online communities to behave without regard to polite accepted etiquette.
To start with, not everyone you meet via online networking really has mutually beneficial motivations. Some are just link collectors who want to raise their number of "friends" to astronomical highs. Others are takers, who want to have access to your network, but are not really planning on helping you should the opportunity arise. This is true of online connections as well as face-to-face relationships, but becomes more common-place when people are distant and masked by anonymity.
The real problems are that for some reason many individuals feel that they can hide behind their computer screen and write very mean-spirited, inflammatory and untrue (or partially true, but slanted to make a point) statements about any subject with which they feel passionate.
The issue here is that people tend to react quickly online and also enjoy stirring up the emotions of others. You see this a lot with the political topics, but these flaming blog posts and comments are also common in the business and other circles.
More than once I have seen people skew the truth to make a point on the blogosphere. I know that I have also been guilty of letting my passion for a topic take precedent over all else. The painful part of this is that then others on line pick up on the exaggerated or false statements... and post about them on their own blogs, Twitter, email lists or other media source. These who re-post take what they read as 100% factual, even though they have no knowledge of the actual story. They then add their opinions, comments and exaggerations without any regard to the facts. These small deviation becomes like the childhood game of "Telephone" where the story morphs and changes and has no resemblance to reality when it reaches the other side.
One argument that traditional journalists make about bloggers is that they do not have the checks and balances of an editor overseeing their writing. Now, we all know of the highly publicized examples of the traditional press making bad judgement calls and running stories to advance their causes.... but usually the editorial process does provide the good judgement to limit presenting emotionally charged opinions as fact.
Some bloggers argue that they have the power of the people and do not need the structure provided by an editor to advance the discussion of important topics. While sometimes this is true, we can all easily find examples of bloggers who do not report fairly, and this is dangerous. Very dangerous.
When emotions run wild, good people can get caught up in the excitement and the mob-rules mentality can take over. When this happens, common sense and judgment get sidelined and innocent people get hurt. Whenever I see people who love the emotions of a cause more than all else, I know in my heart that all bets are off on what they will say or do to make their point.
But one has to be careful to jump in when the mob has taken over, or you can be crucified. Recently I have been warned by other bloggers to stay out online discussions on heated topics because of the fear that other (more powerful online personalities) would retaliate. There are those who fear individuals in social online communities with large followings because they can use their power to bully others. Many feel that one's reputation can be crushed if the mob decides you are not in line. YIKES.
Most upsetting to me are the people who cheer on the bullies. It reminds me of the fight in the halls of a junior high.
There is no "fix"to this dark side of social media, as by its own nature it is about the interaction and connections of people to people. There is no way to police these social communities, other than by the community itself having mutually agreed upon standards (which is tough to define, enforce or understand). Those who live on the internet often hate the thought of "rules", much less common courtesy.
Many of the worst offenders on the internet are the ones with the biggest audiences. They flame and defame anyone without any regret, and their sights continue to get more and more readers. This causes them to just say more outlandish statements and they embrace the "Shock Factor" and justify it by the amount of traffic it creates. And like a violent car accident, viewers continue to slow down to see the twisted heap of metal on the side of the road.
Just some thoughts. Social media is a force - "But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side of the Force, are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you, it will... as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice." (Yoda to Luke Skywalker).
Have A Great Day.