Each of us has an agenda (however fleeting) to influence people around us. We want them to agree with our perspective, our angst even.
Sometimes we succeed in gaining momentum with a group – raising dissenting voices into a fevered pitch that results in others (the accidental audience members) being hooked into the current melee.
But do we lose our objectivity when this happens? Or our ability to think critically about an issue?
Social media is blowing up these days with righteous indignation. It reminds me of something I share with my clients: “Hurt people tend to hurt people.”
It seems everyone is an expert in telling others what they ought to think and, if you don’t happen to wholeheartedly agree, it’s obvious that something is inherently wrong with you.
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This online behaviour is bullying.
In 2012, I started teaching courses to organizations and agencies about how to cope with cyberbullies.
Companies and government agencies were feeling compelled to have social media accounts and communicate through those channels. However, they were finding that their attempts were inviting in a barrage of divisive comments that were often inappropriate and unsubstantiated.
That left those responsible for monitoring and maintaining the sites exhausted and stressed out.
There are so many questions about how to respond to posts designed to agitate or spread negativity. Should you delete antagonistic comments or simply ignore them?
Perhaps the confusion in all this lies with the speed at which we’ve adopted all this technology. Digital social spaces are expanding so rapidly and it has become easy to simply blurt out whatever comes to mind.
Perhaps we haven’t developed the skill to filter our thoughts as quickly as our fingers type.
That doesn’t make your comments any less toxic.
Cyberbullying is about power and control in relationships. (I was recently told online that I can’t use the term relationships, that I must use the correct word: connections. How about if we just stop overreacting to absolutely everything?)
For millions of people worldwide, social media has become immersive entertainment. But there’s a growing sentiment that it’s also ruthless and stressful.
Bolder than any television drama, we’re exposed to people’s dirty laundry, relationship betrayals and a whole host of polarizing opinions. We’re consumed with scrolling and liking and we’ve become addicted to getting those eyeballs on our posts.
We face complex challenges and the world is hurting. Anger is an easy emotion.
But before you get all feisty with your response to someone’s post (or word choice), consider inviting a broader discussion. Develop your curiosity and remember that everyone has a bias – including you. When you ask clarifying questions, it helps you and others stay more informed and objective.
We tend to interpret things literally whereas we speak in generalities. If there are two ways to interpret a message, someone under pressure will usually choose the negative.
The next time you choose to post a video clip, please include the whole clip and not just the piece that supports a biased interpretation. Stop sharing blatantly altered images and messages that you haven’t personally taken time to fact check.
If you feel attacked, breathe or take a break. Go for a walk before you engage in a counter strike. Defensiveness isn’t an attractive quality for anyone. Being thoughtful and informed will build your credibility faster than that quick retort.
Making a conscious choice about demonstrating strong communication skills is an asset that can set you apart from all that other noise.
Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.
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