Knowing Our Social Media Limit

Strange, isn’t it, how people behave when they’re Facebooking, tweeting, text messaging, emailing or communicating in a dozen other ways over the internet. Outrageous things you couldn’t imagine them saying to someone’s face or even on the telephone appear on smart phone or computer screens under their names, sometimes with their pictures.

Suddenly, it becomes apparent we didn’t really understand people we thought we knew.

It happened to a local businessman a few days ago. In commenting on President Donald Trump, via social media, the man said he didn’t really care how the president refers to racial and ethnic minorities, as long as his policies work for Americans. Unfortunately, he cited several examples of slurs. One was the N-word.

He has apologized, both privately and publicly. I’ve known him casually for many years, and I believe he’s sincerely sorry — perhaps a bit shocked at himself.

But the damage is done. Some people will never look at him in the same way they did a couple of weeks ago.

How does this happen?

When we’re talking face-to-face with other people, their expressions and mannerisms, along with how they reply to us, provides important feedback. How many times have you been in a conversation, been about to say something, then seen something in another person’s face that tipped you it was time to change the subject?

Or how many times have you been talking to someone on the telephone and heard a gasp, following by, “Are you crazy? I wouldn’t use that language in public.” At least only one person has heard you make a fool of yourself.

But when you hit “send” or whatever the equivalent is on your social media platform, the whole world has evidence you didn’t think before you typed.

I’m certain scores of college professors are working on research papers trying to explain what it is about social media that makes us post comments we wish (or should wish) we hadn’t written.

One idea is that faceless (we think) communication via the internet has an intoxicating quality, lessening our normal inhibitions. There’s something to be said for that theory. As for the “faceless” part, it’s not terribly difficult to identify people who post under false names.

A possibility that ought to be explored is that it’s the lack of feedback that makes us write and say stupid things on social media. When we type something insane, there’s no friend or family member sitting there to frown at us. There’s just the computer or smart phone screen, inviting us to go ahead and look stupid and/or heartless.

There’s no voice on the phone telling us that we may have intended to make a reasonable point via sarcasm or hyperbole — but viewers on down the line may not recognize that.

It’s been observed that one thing those who partake of alcoholic beverages need to understand is their limit. That is, how much can I drink before I become dangerous or risk making a fool of myself?

Perhaps we need some research into what the limits are for social media. Clearly, lots of people exceed them regularly.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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