This month I would like to talk about the abuse of Facebook and other social media platforms by otherwise normal, intelligent, well-intentioned individuals who take part in Internet communications within their various communities. But first, a story.
When my son was less than a year old and still crawling, I decided one morning to play on the floor with him. I picked up one of his toys – imagine spinning balls on a Ferris wheel attached to a suction cup, which normally attaches to something solid – and stuck the suction cup to my forehead so that he could spin the balls while I was directly in front of him. It was great fun. Eventually he tired of this activity, so I popped the toy off my forehead and went back about my morning routine.
Subsequently passing a mirror – and being as vain as the next guy – I took a look and kept on going, only to return to the mirror, take a longer look, and realize that the suction cup had left a red circle, the size of a half dollar, on the middle of my forehead. That’s right, a giant hick-ey in the middle of my forehead for all to see. It remained there for a week, a week of going to court, meeting clients and other lawyers, going to the market, and generally raising eyebrows and inquisitive looks from all who saw me. Lord knows what they thought. Embarrassing? Absolutely. And it all could have been avoided by taking a brief moment to think about per-haps peeling the suction cup off my forehead instead of ripping it off.
I am always amazed at what people, seemingly without thinking, are willing to say to one another through social media that they would be unwilling to say directly in person. Too often on Facebook and other social media, people write comments without taking the time to reflect on their content, how they sound, what the intended message is, how the message will be received, how self-righteous or indignant the writer may sound, or how hurtful the mes-sage may be. The personal connection is often lost in the Internet connection: no smiles, no frowns, no raised eyebrows, no body language, no irony, no subtlety, no social cues, little sense of understanding for the listener. Just attack, and counter-attack. People say whatever comes into their mind without taking a breath, a minute, a day, to reflect on what they are saying or what their response is. I speak from experience, having sent many lawyerly “nastygrams” over the years, to the point where my assistant delayed sending them out for a day to force me to revisit them once I had cooled down.
My suggestion this month for those of you who continue to interact with your Internet communities is to take a moment, an hour, a day, or however long it takes to communicate your message in a thoughtful, understanding, and compassionate way. Ripping off a comment or response may initially feel good, but peeling off the layers of your position in a responsible manner may be a more prudent and effective way to get your message across. Doing so may save you the public embarrassment and emotional toll your posting may create in the community you love and live in.
President, Prudential Committee