A New Year’s Resolution Challenge… 7 Simple Rules for a Better Social Media

Every year we at this time I begin thinking about how to challenge myself for the upcoming year. Last year I decided to say no to trolling and social media name-calling. It was hard, so hard. But I did not like the vision of myself as social media watchdog calling BS on each new rubbish. To backslidden a few times and immediately regretted it even as I was enjoying it. But I have tried to hold back on the righteous anger bit, and seek peace not war. And I have tried to limit myself to stepping in to defend others being maligned; rather than protecting myself or my pet beliefs. Most days this has been OK. But truthfully, some days not so much. 

As the year has progressed I have given myself a new task, be a lover and not a fighter. Fighting seems easy, but over time it drains the life from you. At first the adrenaline kicks in and you feel good; but living life hooked on that first burst is a tiring and exhausting kind of life. I have discovered for myself how fear and anger in the end debases and devolves life. On the other hand, loving seems like hard work. I have been more misunderstood and demonized for loving than I ever was for fighting (at least in the short term). Yet as I give into the passion, I find myself renewed and encouraged rather than depleted and damaged. As I become someone trying to love publicly I find myself enraptured and joyful regardless of the push back I might receive. Loving something works for you. Hating something works against you. 

So what does this mean. Allow me to spell it out a little bit and encourage a few better habits:

1) If talking about a current event, give it 48 hours before responding and then do it in depth. In the initial rush we get it wrong and I often regret what I say. So I am trying to give myself space to feel and think and if I still feel the same way; then respond. That is not to say we shouldn’t respond sooner; but in the beginning seek to give mercy and solace rather than venting the darker emotions. In that sense after the Boston bombing, I tried to strike a tone of horror at the event while praying for peace and mercy to rule the scene. It’s a hard line to toe but I felt better for not allowing my natural desire for revenge to take center stage. 

2) If talking about a sporting event or discussion of opinions; try to limit to limit the jokes to what has happened and not go after the person or persons. To often I have seen discussion of games and elections devolve quickly into rhetorical assassination. I think it may be OK to make a “have a second” joke about the Alabama- Auburn game; but not OK to call any of the participants names or make judgments about their motives and/or abilities.  Likewise I think it is OK to make jokes about “binders full of women” or “guns and God” without calling Romney a sexist or Obama a reverse racist. There is a fine line here; but I think that if we could just give each other a little leeway and / or lighten up a little bit, we might be able to find the humor in bad game management or gaffs (even when they are made by “our” team or candidate). 

Along those lines, I think after game / event posts (at least for the first 24 hours) should be limited this way:

1) If “your” team won:

a) Speaking of the victory say- “I am so happy that team a won. I am so proud of the way team a played. This is a terrific accomplishment that will be remembered fondly by all team a’s fans.” 

b) speaking of the defeat say- “team b played a good game, and their fans should be proud of the effort they displayed…” or “as glad as I am to back team a; my respect and sympathy goes out to fans of team b for their loss.” 


2) If your team lost:

a) Speaking of the victory say- “team b played a great game and I am sure their fans are thrilled with the victory (even as I and team a fans are saddened by the loss).” 

b) Speaking of the loss, say- “I am sad to see team a lose but I am proud of the way they played or I had hopes of a victory but regardless go team a.”

If your comments cannot fit in these frameworks don’t say anything. Nobody cares if you think the zebras cost your team the game; or if you think team b cheated. And pointing these things out doesn’t make you look intelligent or passionate for your team; they just make you look like a sore loser and / or a giant (&^*. 

3) Verify reports before passing on reports of other’s actions (especially those which would put someone from the other team or someone with whom you disagree). At the least, check snopes. Look and see if multiple sites are reporting that Obama has set up a program to kill old people. And look at sites from various perspectives, to see how various groups are framing the action. At the most, try to put yourself in the other’s shoes and consider how this story might look to them or how they might be understanding their own actions. If Fox News says the Pope is a communist, don’t just pass that tidbit on. Look at some other news sites and see how they are reporting the comments. Better yet read the comments for yourself asking what does the Pope mean when he decries the idolatry of money. Better yet ask yourself how and why he has come to make the comments: are there biblical passages and theological lessons he is taking into consideration that Fox has not. Even better ask why Fox News is running this report and why they are so horrified by the comments. I could say the same thing about any of the times that someone on MSNBC refers to Christians as sexists or racists. We could gameplay this same situation.

I’m not saying don’t watch Fox or MSNBC but be informed and be aware of the media and the ways in which they can frame a story. But especially be self-aware enough to understand how a story might seem more real because it is impacting a blind spot or preconceived notion of your own; before using it as a cudgel to beat your “opponents” over the head. 

4) Understand the definition of divisive. This is fast becoming the first line of offense for attacking the other. Being devisive is not rooting for a different or presenting a different viewpoint. Being divisive is accusing the other of being divisive. Making comments designed to shame or manipulate others into agreement is wrong. Making comments designed to elicit conversation or understand opposing viewpoints is not. Calling others names rather than engaging in heartfelt dialogue about our differences is wrong. Saying, “I think you are wrong here” is not. 

5) Be fair to your opponents. I have jumped into a couple of discussions recently not because I agreed with the person that was being bashed, but because I felt the bashers were being unfair to the bashee. Before throwing our comments or Bible verses; take time to understand the other’s beliefs and evaluating their own comments and use of scripture. Say things like” what I hear you saying is…” or “when you say x, i feel y…” or “what about verse x, how would you say it impacts verse y…” And don’t use these lines as snide ways to attack another. Be real. Be honest. Don’t be disingenuous. 

8) Remember: Always critique up and praise down. That’s not to say praise shouldn’t go both ways; but a reminder that priviledge is real and social context matters. In America, women can make fun of men and still be funny. Men who make fun of women never are. Likewise, blacks can make fun of whites and still be funny. Whites who make fun of blacks never are. That’s not to say white men are free game (humor is a tricky thing in which context and tone matter greatly- that’s why facebook and twitter make horrible places to tell jokes). That’s to say that in our society men and whites have been granted social standing above their cohorts and they should understand this.

Still don’t understand. Think about your boss. You can tell a joke in front of others about your boss and it can be seen as simply the normal process of venting (emphasis on can). But should your boss tell a joke about you in public; well, think about it.

Still don’t get it. Think about yourself. Do you like hearing others make jokes at the expense of your own kind? I am a Southerner and can make all manner of jokes about Southerners; but the minute some Yankee makes the same joke the laughter dies. And I would think the laughter would do the same should I attempt the same jokes that Yankees tell about themselves. If you don’t understand what I mean. Think back to the first season of The Office when Manager Michael Scott tried to do Chris Rock. Don’t remember, watch it here

Save your criticism for those like you or considered your betters. And learn to publically praise others; rather than be negative. 

7) Last! Ask yourself if someone said this to my mom, how would I respond. I think this is a good barometer because while I can give a great leeway on how I am treated; nothing makes me madder than seeing someone come remotely close to besmirching my mom. That’s why “your mom” continue to get a rise out of others. It’s all good until you attack my momma. So before posting an article about them no-good liberals; imagine that someone was making the same argument about your mom; could you say, “OK that is a valid criticism of my mom…” or would you go through the roof. If you can’t say that, don’t post it. 

If we choose to follow these rules, I think all of us will be the better for it. So challenge yourself to be a better user of the social media in the year to come (which will be, sigh…., an election year… sigh…). And if you can’t remember all these rules, just try to follow this one simple mantra: don’t be that guy. You know, the one you hate seeing pop up on your timeline because you know just looking at his (or her) post is going to make you mad for hours to come. 

editor’s note: an 8th rule should be: please don’t scour the web for all the times I have broken the rules I mentioned. Many of these are hard-fought lessons that I have learned the wrong way. Additionally I am like all like everyone human and get tired and cranky and screw up. 


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