Social networking services have added a great many benefit for individuals and organizations. Families, friends, colleagues keeping touch with one another in real-time with no geographic boundaries. But like anything, these benefits haven’t come without their share of problems and issues for some. As I read through the reports of these incidents, you hear most wanting to blame the service. As the age-old adage goes, “Whenever you point the finger, there are three pointing back at you.” If I am fooling around on a ladder and fall . . . is it the fault of the ladder? No. I should have used the ladder responsibly.
When it comes to the internet in general, it has often been viewed as a “toy”. In the early days of social networking with things like AOL Instant Messenger, chat rooms, forums, etc.; users could for the most part “hide” behind screennames with no one knowing who you actually were. The user was free to say or act however they pleased without fear of repercussion. Then came things like MySpace and Facebook, and the user was no longer “hidden”. Interestingly enough, the behavior didn’t change for many. Students posting things as “jokes” which put them in bad positions at school. Employees posting negative things about bosses or their company and have to answer for it at work. Then the debates rage with arguments like, “It’s just the internet.” or “That’s my personal stuff and I shouldn’t be held responsible.” The bottom line to it all . . . the internet is no different than the physical world. It’s just another place and tool we use to communicate and interact. Real people, and all our values and lessons about social interactions apply.
So how do you “stay out of trouble” online? Here’s 5 tips to effective and responsible social networking online:
- Pray first! In a recent online podcast by Craig Berry with Father Gjengdahl, Father Gjengdahl made a great point about praying before blogging. This is the same approach many of us use before public speaking or public social interactions. What a great idea.
- Would I say that if someone was sitting right here with me? This is the best question to always keep front and foremost in your mind. The world of computers and the internet can be very impersonal. It’s you and the screen, and we forget that beyond that . . . is a whole world of real people receiving what we sent. I often think of it as more of standing in a crowded public place and asking myself if I would do or say whatever it is in that place. Would I wear a t-shirt that says an expletive? Would I yell something derogatory out loud? If I wouldn’t there . . . I don’t online.
- The internet never forgets. Anyone who has blogged knows this all too well. It’s not uncommon to receive comments from blogs you may have posted years prior. You probably forgot all about it, but it still shows up in searches.
- Avoid “venting”. If you are angry about something, it’s probably a good idea to avoid the keyboard. It may be a stress reliever for you when you “blast out” and fuming email, blog post, or status update about something that has angered you; but remember . . . real people are receiving this on the other end.
- You are ultimately responsible. Parents are missing huge opportunities to teach their children about proper social interaction when they blame the service rather than the child’s actions online. Adults likewise miss this as well. The internet is real people interacting in a real world and it should not be viewed any other way. Avoiding issues is as simple as staying focused on those 3 fingers pointing back at you at all times.
We’ve all made mistakes online and we’ve all made mistakes offline. We are imperfect beings in an imperfect world that collectively makes for the “perfect mess” (to steal a great phrase from the book “The Shack”). The important thing is to learn from these. Social networking and social aspects of the internet are not going away. Nor is the internet. In fact, the internet was always designed to bring people together in one shape or another. It is doing that like never before today. It is important for adults to be aware and for parents to extend those social value/interaction lesson to proper online use as well. Pray then post.