Words: The Barbed Hooks of Social Media

Sometimes I just want to take social media and wring its neck.

Tonight I had Facebook open and someone posted an article about Mount Rushmore and the whole shutdown thing. I made a comment (pretty neutral one, actually) about how I thought it was ridiculous. My friend replied. Everything seemed set to stay there, until one of her friends replied to her comment. The new comment, while expressing an opinion that one can choose to freely agree or disagree with, not only tried to make a point but descended into ad hominem attacks against my friend. Things went downhill from there.

As I think I’ve probably said, I’m all for discussion and debate, as long as it’s friendly. Friendly doesn’t mean not emotional or heated: it means honestly seeking truth. When we start attacking each other, though, instead of just the ideas being debated, it goes from friendly to nasty in sixty seconds. Seeing friend attack friend on Facebook made my heart hurt. I personally didn’t agree with the other person who commented, but if she had just presented her comments differently instead of attacking my friend, it wouldn’t have bothered me that much. I wanted to respond this girl, who I don’t know from Adam, because she was being unkind to my friend. But I didn’t want to respond as she did, and I didn’t think it would help the situation so I didn’t say anything. I’m glad I didn’t but it still hurts. Seeing these things makes it harder for me not to judge people (which is why I’m working on avoiding comboxes)–as much as I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, their words are so vitriolic they stir my anger again.

It also made me wonder if the internet’s impersonal environment affects how friends speak to each other as well. Would this person have ever said those mean things to my friend’s face? It’s as if because we don’t have to face a person right away it doesn’t matter how he reacts. But it does–because words are words, and people will interpret them however they first perceive them from the internet. Words can’t be taken back–if you’re lucky a comment could be deleted before someone sees it, but once a person has seen it, it doesn’t matter if you erase it. The effect remains and may actually adversely affect a friendship.

People on the internet are already careless enough with their words to strangers. I hate that it makes us careless toward our friends too.

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