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I have always been a social person. As a child, I made friends and fostered relationships like a regular kid. As a teenager, I was more reserved but was still able to relate and converse. As an adult, I have always been selective. One thing I have always been terrible at was maintaining long-distance relationships. I didn’t write letters and was leery of opening myself up to rejection by reaching out to others. So, the internet was something akin to a personality reformat. I could reach out and, although I could be rejected, I found that few people would do that to me. I was able to re-connect with old friends, deepen current friendships and foster new ones. It was no wonder that they began to refer to the new internet, Web 2.0, as Social Media.
Social Media is a term coined to explain certain aspects of technology that allow and encourage interaction. Whether you are commenting on a site or leaving a message on a forum or chatting live, you are interacting with a static technology that invites this activity. Social Media has done for the world what the telephone once did for families. Social Media has made the world smaller through connectivity on a level as superficial as ‘Money Making schemes’ to ‘I have lost my husband.’ It galvanizes entire communities and a prayer chain or positive intention is only as weak as the number of retweets.
As a writer and blogger, I readily take advantage of all forms of connection that the Web provides. I am easily led on Twitter and have been known to accept a friend on FaceBook that holds a very tenuous connection to me as long as their profile pic is not genitalia. What can I say? A girl has to have standards. So imagine my surprise that people were using this miracle of technology for evil instead of good. Many people are capitalizing on what I call, Anti-Social Media.
There are people on the interwebz who have no qualms about attacking a person. These Social Media Snipers take aim at individuals when they are vulnerable and attack until they have chummed the waters enough to start a feeding frenzy. All of a sudden, a person’s crisis becomes a poll on Soda Head and fodder for blog posts, status updates and e-zine articles. All of a sudden, you need to take sides on whether a person was careless or responsible for a death or cruel or just plain stupid. And the most disgusting part of these incidents is that the person in crisis, who is all of a sudden immersed in a drama, is lost in the argument, while the Sniper gets the attention.
They are the shock jocks of this new technology. They are the pseudo famous for being out-spoken and willing to voice the inappropriate things you may only think of. They are the serial killers who obtain fame by using pain and no one remembers the victims. These Snipers are nothing but Technological Bullies. We accept this the way we dismiss bullying in general. We say things like, kids are cruel and we ignore the detrimental effects of harsh words, embarrassment and general emotional torture.
In my previous incarnation, I was a therapist. In my career I worked with pedophiles, domestic violence, addiction, families and relationships. I saw and heard of violence of all kinds. The stories I would hear were so vile that I often needed over an hour to decompress after work such that the images would subside to the point that I could attend to my family. You would think this would desensitize me to what is considered to be mild annoyances like a stranger saying negative things to someone in 140 characters or less. On the contrary, I am more sensitive to even the mildest forms of violence and these anti-social media attacks are tantamount to assault. These Social Media Snipers are invading people’s computers, phones and homes with their vitriol and feigned disgust. This is a home invasion by a faceless coward that can sit in their sweats 3000 miles away who likes to play judge, jury and executioner with the smugness of a vestal virgin.
Social Media has created a new form of celebrity that is measured not by paparazzi pics or magazine covers but by Google and Alexa. This so-called celebrity can be obtained through hard work, good writing and diligent networking. Instead, some choose to be the hare and race to the lime light by being negatively outspoken, contrary and abusive.
What is our reaction to these vultures? Some of us write. Some of us ignore. Some of us attack. What is clear is that these tactics do not work. We are not ameliorating the need for others to act with a viciousness only seen in the scorned. On the contrary, the attention they receive has been like a siren call to any and all fame whore. And if not on the level of the shamefully self-serving acts of a would be author a little less than a year ago, we have others who find no qualms talking smack and gossiping on live feeds of other people in the same business.
They call us the New Journalists and yet we have no concept of the ethics it takes to do that job. It’s like stepping into an office and being a therapist because people tell you their problems all the time. We have stepped into the shoes of people like Bernstein and Woodward with the ethics of a wayward priest. We are somehow under the impression that using the Web to spout hate or create pretend political campaigns which are truly fronts for bigotry (see Andrew Shirvell) is our right. Freedom of speech gives one the right to say anything they want along with the responsibility of the consequences those words may create.
Social Media needs to come to an understanding. We all need to join groups like Blogging with Integrity to avoid the ugliness that has been our unfortunate history. We must all pledge to disavow any and all bullying and, while we are at it, we must stop using such an infantile word. Bullying is violence. Period. We must stop posturing and attacking and judging and shutting others out because that’s what we do in real life. We must remember that no one is making you respond to anything. Your opinion is not the cure for cancer and does not need to be disseminated to the world. I know that real life can be ugly but is it possible to keep the Web beautiful?