More of us are spending more time online. Social media has become a virtually indispensable tool for keeping in contact with people, this was especially true during the pandemic. If you are running an organisation or hosting an event, then you can’t avoid social media. Let’s be honest too, an hour on Facebook or watching YouTube is often preferably to an hour watching mediocre television.
Yet we all know there is a dark side to being online.
People often have an online persona on social media that’s very different from whom they are when you meet them personally. People who wouldn’t say “boo” to someone face to face, will happily abuse people via a keyboard and avatar. Say something on a public forum and it’s a dead cert someone will say you are dead wrong, and others will impugn everything from your intellect to your parents’ relationship at the time of your birth. How do you respond when that happens?
Antagonism and anger spread like wildfire on social media. We all probably have had that experience of ending up being involved in a keyboard war with a complete stranger that is so intense our fingertips almost develop blisters. Speaking as someone who has to have content I create posted online, it is also deeply discouraging and hurtful to have worked long and hard on something you post online simply to have it trashed and ridiculed. I often feel I want to “hit back”
Yet there is a positive side to being online.
I have been challenged, informed, inspired and provoked to deeper thinking because of what people have said and posted online. I have friends around the world that I keep in almost constant contact with through social media and my life is richer for it. I also have developed genuine friendships with people I have only ever met online.
So how do we balance this?
How do we try and minimize the hurt and hassle we can experience while still being open to our lives being enriched by our online activities? How do we stay sane online?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and this is where I am in my thinking at the moment
Every time I go online and read a post, I have a choice, the choice of whether to IGNORE or INTERACT.
IGNORE … This has been a lesson it’s been hard for me to learn; I don’t need to respond to everything I think is wrong or stupid. People don’t need to hear my views on politics or on a whole range of issues and will probably ignore what I say anyway. I am finally learning that when I see something that I think is wrong, or stupid or vindictive I can simply scroll on by. This has been tremendously liberating, its certainly lowered my blood pressure.
I do sometimes ignore my rule about ignoring stuff if that makes sense. When do I do that?
Firstly, if I am responsible for the content of something online, like my Church’s YouTube channel, or social media accounts. I am not going to ignore posts that contradict Christian teaching or values, I am going to say something to correct it, or I will delete it or even block the person. I will also intervene and respond if I think something is dangerous, so I would report false information about vaccines to the admins of pages or to Facebook and Twitter, the same would go for what I consider cyber bullying.
INTERACT … My other choice is to interact with people online, respond to what they say, have a conversation with them, even a debate or disagreement.
My decision to interact online depends on the person and the group. I belong to certain “interest” groups on social media. It will come as no surprise to you that most of these are about motorbikes, theology, standard poodles and rugby. I have pretty strong opinions about the merits of Italian motorcycles over Japanese, about the best cut for a poodle, what predestination means in the New Testament and why the Scottish rugby team is consistently inconsistent. I enjoy “banter” about some of these things and serious discussion about others. Interacting on these subjects can often be really enjoyable and informative, when it becomes something else, I stop interacting.
I also choose to interact online on serious subjects when people say something that I think is informative, inspiring or genuinely inquisitive. These interactions often challenge my thinking, lead to me changing my mind or help me clarify what I believe. As it says in the book of Proverbs “iron sharpens iron.”
So that is how I am learning to stay sane and safe online. What about you? Any tips or thoughts?