The rise of the Internet and social media channels have forever changed our culture. The world has become so much smaller and more accessible that people can connect and share ideas and knowledge easier than ever before in history. But along with great opportunity comes great responsibility. Most people I know interact online on a daily basis to some extent, reading and responding to Facebook posts, news articles, blogs, photo memes, etc. Wherever you may spend your time online, if you want to avoid being perceived as a jerk (or something worse) I believe it’s important for you to know and practice a few rules.
1. If you don’t have the time to read a post or article in its entirety, you shouldn’t take the time to leave a comment
It never ceases to amaze me at how many people will only read the headlines or the first couple of paragraphs of an article before posting a critical comment. I read a comment last week on an article where the commenter actually said he didn’t read past the point with which he disagreed, but HAD to stop and comment. What he disagreed with was only a minor point that really had no bearing on the entire theme of the article…but he doesn’t know because he didn’t bother reading past the two sentences he didn’t like. I’ve had comments on my blog posts from people who clearly didn’t read beyond the first paragraph, yet felt compelled to share how wrong and misguided I was in my thinking. I love constructive criticism and civil arguments, but don’t be a jerk by reading only the first paragraph before picking a fight or making a definitive statement about my entire identity.
2. If you wouldn’t say it to the person’s face, don’t write it online
I don’t know why this one seems to be so hard for people to understand. It’s like people don’t realize they are talking to and influencing other ACTUAL human beings when they converse online. If you were at a coffee shop talking to me face to face, would you still be so harsh and critical in your comments about my viewpoint? Remember that even when you disagree with a person’s ideas or actions, they are still a person who deserves to be treated with at least a minimal amount of respect. Online disrespect = disrespect in real life
3. Don’t be afraid to do some research before sharing an article about a controversial topic
If you can’t believe everything you see on TV then you certainly can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. A lot of the time information is shared for the sake of being sensational and getting attention, whether or not it’s true or accurate. When you read a headline or a meme and immediately share it, you may be passing along bad information. It only takes a minute to do a little research and find some other reputable sources that back up a particular claim. If it’s hard to find a good source that accomplishes this, that’s a good indication that the story or “facts” might be bogus. We have a tremendous wealth of information at our fingertips–we just need to learn how to use it effectively.
4. Be sensitive to the fact that most people online don’t actually care about your opinion
Do you know how many people have Facebook accounts, Email, or Internet access? I don’t know those numbers, but I know it’s astronomical. We’re talking multiple millions of people, logging on to thousands upon thousands of sites, reading billions of words around the clock. The Internet may have made our world feel smaller, but it’s still huge! Even someone with an online following of 100,000 has still only captured the attention of a very small percentage of the population. My point is that it’s important to remember that while a few people may value and want to hear your opinion on certain matters, most won’t. And that’s OK. That’s why we collect Facebook friends and a following because those are the people saying they are more likely to be interested or care about what you’ve got going on. So when you comment on a stranger’s post and they respond with an insult or just ignore you, don’t be surprised. It’s probably not personal anyway. And try not to be the person who posts a rant or controversial statement with the disclaimer that you don’t want to start an argument and you ‘just HAVE to say…” something you know people will disagree with. The truth is, you don’t actually have to say anything. I know it feels good to make your voice heard, but it’s not good when you do it in such a way to steamroll others and dismiss the opportunity to have a conversation.
5. Keep everything in the right perspective
The bottom line when it comes to the Internet and social media is that it’s awesome only when it’s used well. All too often people and relationships are damaged because of the misuse of these powerful tools. At the end of the day, try to step back and look at the big picture of life, both on- and offline. The Internet is only one way to interact with the world and shouldn’t be your ONLY way. Don’t forget to have some personal conversations from time to time that are actually in-person. Don’t hurt a friend or lose a job or even a spouse because of something you did online. If you need to have a difficult conversation with someone in your life, please talk to them in person or on the phone. Your Facebook feed is not the place to argue with family members or tell someone what you really think of them. I know it happens all the time, but it shouldn’t. Keep it all in perspective and do what’s right.
Have other rules or tips for how we should communicate online? Let me know in the comments, on Facebook, or by email.
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