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Countless media bloopers, some with repercussions, have caused me to die little social media deaths. By “social media death” I mean that sinking sensation that I’ve done something that will turn my social networks against me.

When Twitter was still young, I would lie in bed at night thinking “Have I thanked XYZ for their RT?” It sounds silly and neurotic, but social media pressure to respond does mean that if you don’t respond, you’re not cultivating social media politeness. It eats up time. Many very organized people have got it down to an art. They’re admirably friendly and attentive online. Not me, unfortunately, I can’t do friendly fast. My solution is to continue to disengage and be less responsive overall. Now I just say what comes naturally when I have the time to say anything.

I was once a member of a Facebook group that shared music on themed days. Unfortunately, I hadn’t noticed that a video of the Yiddish song “Zehn Brüder” that I shared contained images of concentration camps. A Lebanese member of the group took offense and responded with a shocking video showing dead Lebanese children. Oh no! We were both chastised by the moderator of the group for being political. But I hadn’t been thinking of ‘current politics’ at all, I was exploring German Jewish history.  But who’s to define where culture and history end and politics begin? The incident was disturbing enough that I decided to withdraw completely, and stopped sharing anything of real personal interest online.

In any communication with someone else, it’s key to consider: Who is this person to you? Who are you to them? So what kind of water-cooler information will you want to be broadcasting to a group of people, and for what purpose?

Emails are more directed and controllable, but they, too, have caused me embarrassment, especially since I don’t always know the people I’m writing to all that well. Something I wrote off the cuff last year was misinterpreted, and subsequently used against a colleague I admire, who suffered a temporary setback as a result. I had no idea of what was happening, and since I had not intentionally said anything harmful, was clueless as to what I was supposed to have done wrong. When I found out there was a problem, it was deeply humiliating not to be given a chance to set things right. Overall, this incident proves that email  can’t replace face to face communications and phoning. This particular incident has also showed me that you can choose to be humiliated – but you can also choose to disengage.

Commenting on blogs, to me, is the canary in the coal mine of social networking. If I feel comfortable responding respectfully and intelligently on someone’s blog, in his or her reflective space, something good is going on. If I hesitate and rephrase and leave the blog feeling stupid, well, maybe it’s simply not a blog I should be leaving a comment on. What am I trying to prove? What have I got to lose? What are we all here for, anyway? Thus spake the canary, and flew away. In fact, feeling out of my depth on some of the better blogs made me realize I had much to learn. So I went back and hit the books.

Back online, doing ‘social media light’, I’ll probably die many more little deaths. Never mind. I think I’ll take these ‘deaths’ with a pinch of salt.