Hiding behind a screen – the negative impact of social media

(Photo from Unsplash)

When will I ever learn? I know better, but it’s so hard to fight the urge. I’m talking primarily about indulging in the horrible comment section under pretty much any post on social media. Have people always been so hateful? Why has the internet given people the idea that they can be so viciously cruel? 

It’s really crazy to me the nastiness that social media perpetuates. Here in the South – the Bible Belt – I would expect more grace and decency when interacting online. It struck me while I was driving to Walmart and back home the other day that we are living in two different realms.  

I saw people waving as they passed each other, signaling for the other driver to go first through a four way stop, allowing a stranger to pull in front of them in traffic. At the store, people were friendly and demonstrating politeness and courtesy. A stranger let me go ahead of her because I only had a few items compared to her full cart. One person offered us an umbrella as we stood staring out the doors during a passing rain shower.  

Not one person called me stupid for something as simple as not having an umbrella, but I am willing to bet that the keyboard warriors would have been tripping over themselves trying to share their opinions. In face-to-face interactions, most people show restraint, patience, understanding and empathy. Why are we not as neighborly online?  

My thought as I observed all the nice things going on around me was, “Are these the same people who have called me an idiot or said I should find another job for misspelling one name after covering a toddler beauty pageant? Are these the same helpful people who yelled, ‘fake news, die’ when I showed up to take pictures at a weenie dog race?” 

I don’t know what the solution is. My fear is that the internet has become a place to freely fling insults in an attempt to mask our own insecurities, and this behavior is a source of entertainment for many. It’s the proverbial train wreck that we all flock to see. It’s as though we have forgotten our words are being received by real people and they hurt. It is a playground for bullies and as adults, if we don’t want our children to be bullies or to be bullied, we have to stop.  

I’ve had to reprogram my own way of thinking as I am also guilty of being negative. Now, I ask myself before I comment, “Is this helpful or encouraging? Will debating accomplish anything other than beating my own chest?”  

I have also learned with age that everyone’s life experience is different, and how we prioritize issues are unique to our own experiences. It’s OK if others don’t prioritize the same things as me. We are shaped by our experiences and if they are all different, we are all going to see the world through our own unique lenses. There is absolutely no reason to have a meltdown when others don’t think differently.  

We are also capable of caring about many, many issues. I see people make the “what about” comment almost every time there is an instance of donations of time or money made to an upstanding cause. If somebody donates money to Cause A, but your heart is more sympathetic to Cause B, that does not mean no one cares. Recognize the generosity shown, in whatever capacity – its a positive thing. Maybe their next donations will be to the cause for which you advocate.  

Politics! Ugh, this one is the worst. The stone-cold truth is that not a single person is going to change their minds politically because you post an insulting and divisive meme. I have never seen one argument about politics on social media result in anything other than a name-calling fiasco that managed to bring out the absolute worst in those participating. I have no need for Billy Bob from Idaho to agree with me but throwing insults his way would certainly be the worst response if I wanted his positive affirmation.  

Local politics are even more cringeworthy, as I see good people and their families being ripped on social media. People say terrible things that they would never dream of saying to someone’s face. The false sense of bravery is interesting considering its cowardly nature. I don’t always agree with every decision made by our local officials, but I do know them and I like them. Disagreeing with a decision or stance is possible without verbal assault.  

I have challenged myself and I want to challenge others to show a little grace. Try to empathize with one another and consider how others are burdened. Discuss the positives. I was recently at a council meeting in South Vinemont and afterward, I was speaking to a council member. She had mentioned a sermon where her pastor asked the congregation if everyone on social media knew what they liked or only what they disliked?  

Do people only know what you hate? Do people see you as a positive or a negative? Do you inspire and lift up others? Despite the old saying about sticks and stones breaking bones but words never harming, hurtful words may actually be the most painful. The decision to be kind can be exactly what someone else needs. It can even have a tremendous ripple effect and an ever-moving wave of kindness is exactly what is needed right now.  

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