This election year taught me many lessons. I didn’t realize the haughtiness of human thought processes and beliefs until I saw them manifest in social media. Some of my brothers and sisters in the “mature” crowd unfortunately used the platform as a bully pulpit for intolerance and disdain. As the mother of teenagers, I have had more than my share of conversations about internet etiquette. They now realize that social media is a “footprint,” a personal signature, and it is critical to be careful of how you brand yourself. I didn’t realize at the time I was conversing with my own teenagers that the advice given to them could be of value to their elders, my “friends.”
The first lesson I learned is that I really don’t care what my “acquaintances” think about politics — unless they are running for political office. Quite honestly, I don’t feel the need to let all of my social media “friends” know my position on politics. I suspect they don’t care. As I quite innocently peeked at profiles and wished happy birthday to acquaintances, I found myself assaulted by links to articles and hate speak. Wow! I just wanted to wish someone happy birthday.
Scrolling through pages of crazy talk I began to question myself. I became frustrated and incensed when I read the mean spirited comments about society and the world around me by people I thought were my friends. The anonymity of the computer made bullies out of adults. Not strangers, but people I called friends.
A co-worker was imploring me (and 500 of her closest friends) to go see a movie and read articles to get the real truth about the news story du jour. A neighbor sent me (and 255 of her closest friends) a less-than-riveting article on social security, which was followed by thousands of venomous comments from strangers. I was dizzy from following links that sent me down dark and scary rabbit holes occupied by hate mongers and cocky, brazen angry people. What did I do with this lesson? Stay tuned. Thankfully my second lesson was soon to follow.
Negative energy is like the flu — it’s contagious and often subtle. You shake hands with someone, and the next thing you know, you’re lying in bed achy and sick for two weeks. The same can be said for the negative energy emitted from social media. You peek at profile updates and the next thing you know, you’re mad at the world. At least the flu only lasts a few weeks; unlike the political season, which lasts for months.
Staring at my computer screen I was made incredulous by the comments. I would look at people around me shaking my head, suspecting that they too, held similar beliefs. Yard signs and bumper stickers that were once innocuous became tethered to angry anonymous mobs that had smiling pictures linked to their names. They posed with family and pets, enjoying vacations and having fun with friends. They appeared to be living a double life, smiling for the camera by day and propagating anger and animosity by night.
Who are these people, and why are they my friends? Have no fear for there is an inoculation available just the same. There is an arrogance that comes with anonymity. I can’t believe that this behavior is separate from the person. It is an extension of the person. I slowly began to realize that I was gifted with information that I would never have been able to see. Being invited inside of the dark labyrinth can be scary, but once you open your eyes and focus, there’s much to be seen and learned. This led me to my third and most important lesson.
Managing and filtering the impact of social media has saved me from much frustration. As tempting as it may be, hiding from it is not necessarily the correct answer. It is quite O.K. to remove people from your world who can cause you frustration and whose values don’t align with yours. I learned that opinions matter, but that delivery and tact matter more. In teaching my children about branding themselves, I learned much about the brand of my acquaintances and friends. I learned that my circle needs to be smaller, and that those in the circle can be hovered over, hidden, and if necessary, deleted.
Life is short, but frustration is not. We are largely in control of the pain we expose ourselves to. The crowd — and the mode in which it delivers frustration — changes with the times. I am learning to be nimble in my efforts to minimize its damaging impact. I didn’t realize that nestled in the lesson I taught my children about branding themselves would be a lesson for me. There are real friends, and there are acquaintances. Both groups are in complete control of their own brand, and you can choose to buy or boycott. You will benefit from the clarity.