Your Guide to Avoiding a Social Media Fiasco
The Internet affords a certain degree of anonymity, but that anonymity cuts both ways.
On one hand, you feel a little freer to say every witty thing that comes to mind—on the other, you feel a little freer to say every stupid thing that comes to mind. And those things are liable to bring the wrath of the Internet down on you in full force.
If you're intentionally out to get a rise from people online, there's not much that needs to be said, but most of us don't go looking for trouble. Here are some tips to inject a little thoughtfulness and diplomacy into your online life and avoid a social media fiasco.
Monitor Your Privacy Settings
Some sites give you a pretty high degree of anonymity. But even those that demand you use your real name, like Facebook, have a ton of privacy settings that you can use.
If, for instance, you're going to talk smack about the judge in your court case, maybe don't add them on Facebook beforehand. Or at least have the judge in your “restricted” group of friends, who don't see all of your posts by default.
Whether it's your professor, your boss, or just your elderly aunt Carolyn who only posts “1 like = 1 prayer” memes, think who your audience is or isn't every time you post. You don't have to censor yourself or curb your self-expression, just be aware that you have the tools that social to tailor your audience accordingly.
Think Like An Employer
Pretend you're a hiring manager, and read what you just wrote. Do you hate yourself? Are you about to fire yourself? Are you imagining lawsuits? Don't post it.
There are plenty of reasons not to post things on social media beyond, “This will come back to bite me.” But if you start there, you're still thinking more clearly than a lot of other people
Remember These Are Real People
Now there are definitely robots on the Internet, posting ads for Ray-Bans and trying to dupe you into giving them your credit card number in exchange for porn, but most people you encounter online are just that—people. Ever have someone say something that really got under your skin and just wrecked your entire day?
You have the power to do that to others, so use it wisely—i.e. don't use it at all.
If someone takes offense at a miscommunication, that's one thing. But if you go out of your way to say words that you know have the power to hurt someone, that sucks. And you, by extension, suck.
Now, is a mean tweet the worst thing that ever happened? Not usually, no. But the net unhappiness in the world has increased by that much, and it's your fault.
Run Stuff By a Friend
When you want to post a joke on Twitter or Facebook that you're particularly worried about, run it by someone you trust, with a question that gets to the heart of your concern for the post.
Ask things like, “Is this statement sufficiently exaggerated that everyone will know it's sarcastic?”
“Is this clever enough that it will jar people, or is it lazy shock comedy that anyone out of college has already seen?”
“Will enough people laugh at this joke about my crippling depression to make up for the number of people who will worry about me?”
Look, when you're talking about a hot-button something, like politics, most people walk in armed with things that they already want to say. These are things that are important to them, things they think are effective arguments, or things that they've heard Newt Gingrich or Rachel Maddow say and tucked away to remember.
But two people shouting talking points at each other doesn't make for a conversation. And there's nothing more frustrating than realizing that someone's not actually addressing you, but rather is just talking at you.
If you're going to engage someone about a controversial subject, the least you can do is pay attention to what they're saying. Even if what they're saying is really stupid. Because people can tell when you're not listening to them, and that leads to shouting matches. You can say what you want about whether online conversations actually change anyone's mind, but shouting matches sure as hell don't.