Disclaimer: Ok, so this is a bit of a rant post. You have been warned.
I’ve been wanting to write this post for months but I’ve been holding back. I’m really frustrated with social media. So much so that part of me wishes that I could go back to Burkina Faso and be off the grid for awhile.
Let’s start with the not so good.
People use social media as a form of validation. They post things online to get immediate feedback to feel validated. Because people always care about what others think of them. People post their personal views online and by doing that, they invite other people to agree and disagree with it. I too, like it when I post something and get likes on facebook. Who doesn’t? It’s something that makes you feel good about yourself and is a “warm fuzzy.”
While I agree with sharing ideas and keeping an open forum is a noble endeavor and starts a dialogue, I’ve observed that it can turn into a festering infection of negative comments and arguing. This negativity really frustrates me. If you believe something, there’s always going to be someone who disagrees with you. That’s the way things are.
The worst is when people post things that have not been fact-checked out of frustration or other extreme emotion. Maybe they were feeling upset and felt that they could use social media as a venting outlet. As this may be an attempt to work out feelings constructively, it’s really not. When I was a PCV, I observed the impact of negative venting when other PCVs would gossip about problems at site or problems with other people. It turned into a negative firestorm of venting, and when combined with the stress and “hot house” atmosphere turned into an inferno.
Many of these posts have the attitude of I’m feeling <intense emotion here> so i’m going to post something about it. That’s unfortunate/great that you are feeling that emotion, but maybe it’s not a good idea to post it online.
One situation that particularly distressed me was something that happened at my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
During the polar vortex of 2014, the students were not given a snow day and took to twitter with a very offensive hash tag against the current chancellor. (You can read more about it here). I was very appalled and disappointed at the response by the students. At the time I was taking classes at Wayne State and we got snow days. Wayne State is a unique campus because they are mostly a commuter campus. There are many part time students who have full time jobs, or families. If schools in the area are closed, many of the students with children have to scramble to find child care or stay home to take care of them. That’s not the case at UIUC which is a generally residential campus. The response by the students festered and turned into this infection of hate against the current chancellor. I can understand students being bummed out because they didn’t get a snow day, but their response was unacceptable.
These days on facebook, i don’t post much about myself. When I was in a relationship, it wasn’t on facebook, I didn’t make a big announcement about where I was going to grad school. Recently I’ve been mostly posting about the world cup and the West African teams I support. Every time I look at the site, I tend to get frustrated seeing ignorance and posts that come out of rash decisions and it makes me want to leave.
However, social media does have its benefits. My grad school has a facebook group for my class and it’s enabled me to make some friends and facilitate meeting up with other students. I posted something on facebook to meet up with classmates before orientation and I got a lot of responses from other students who had arrived in Baltimore and were waiting for classes to start.
Social media is also great to keep me connected with people who are not local. This includes current PCVs in Burkina, and other Burkina RPCVs around the country. It also helped me find one of my high school classmates who is currently living and going to school in Baltimore. It’s also great for planning events and meetups and helping publicize things.
I’m extraordinarily grateful for the positive response to my blog and how it has helped people catch a glimpse of what I did in BF and how i’m adjusting.
In short: I’m torn. I love the positive benefits of social media and how it can be used for good. However its costs are making me very frustrated.
So Sara, what’s your point?
My point is that people should be mindful of what they post on social media, and here’s what I think.
1. Once you post something on the internet it’s there and you no longer have control over it, even if you delete a post. You must accept the reality that you may have opened Pandora’s Box. Actions have consequences.
2. People will disagree with what you post.
3. If you are upset/have intense feelings about something, take a breath or a time out and think before you post. Ask yourself if this is truly the best way to vent your feelings, or if this is something that may get back to you in a negative way.
4. Because things are written online, things can be taken out of context and the tone of the post may be interpreted differently than what you intended. If you put the emphasis on different parts of the sentence, then it means different things. It’s harder to detect the intention behind the words.
The classic example is:
I didn’t say you were stupid,
I didn’t say you were stupid,
I didn’t say you were stupid,
I didn’t say you were stupid.
5. You don’t need people online to validate you and your existence. You are more than what people think of you online.
This is my form of venting, but I hope that I was able to put it in a positive context and to acknowledge the negative and positive powers of social media. Think before you post. We all make mistakes, but once it’s online it’s out of your control.