Digital responsibility

About losing friends over self-righteousness and digitally irresponsible behavior

Recently, a friend wrote a beautiful piece about how we used to be able to confront political views and remain friends (or, at least, politely acquainted) with people. He described how that changed with can be called an abusive (meaning too much) and irresponsible (meaning “keyboard happy”, posting with a seriousness that doesn’t match that of the subject) use of social media for political discussion.

That applies to moral and sexual conduct, to many cultural issues and to forms of expression.

Sometimes conflict can’t be avoided. I will give you an example: the country I was born in, Brazil, is in political turmoil. NOT expressing yourself may lead to the same outcome as being outspoken and opinionated. Recently, I’ve been silent about the present political crisis, which lead to the president’s impeachment. The old time friends I hadn’t lost in 2011, I lost now, because of my silence. I lost family, too.

When radicalization reaches this level, there is nothing you can do.

However, usually you can. Simple things work, such as:

  1. Never offer unsolicited advice. If you really think your friend needs it, PM him or her and offer help. If help is needed, offer the content. Otherwise, don’t. When advice is wanted, it is worded that way, like: “hey, does anybody have a suggestion on where to hold my 3 year old daughter’s birthday party in Denver?”
  2. Make sure you understand the update before you make any comment. If it is a humorous post, don’t spoil the party. It is really, really irritating when someone goes serious in a nonsensical thread.
  3. Make sure you don’t do the opposite. Someone posts a serious, almost dramatic update. Consider that this person did this either after much thought, because he or she considers the subject extremely important, or in a state of emotional distress. In both cases, your joke is not welcome.
  4. “It is just the internet”: WRONG. It is the internet, the most powerful publishing resource ever devised by humanity. It’s serious. It’s dead serious. Politicians are elected or destroyed in the internet. Movements are organized through the internet. People commit suicide because of “just a joke” in the internet. Don’t be a cyber bully.
  5. Act your age. If you are an adult, behave. Otherwise, you are not just being an asshole: you are being a horrible role model. Teenagers don’t need much encouragement to misbehave behind a keyboard. As a responsible adult, act as such.
  6. Consider that in 99% of the cases, it is not about you. Nothing is about you. Using someone’s update to show how smart, powerful or otherwise awesome you are is offensive. Just don’t.
  7. Contribute if you can. Most of the time, posting something funny is the best possible contribution. People are stressed. Most of the time, they check their timeline in an automatic manner. Rarely, to check on something important. If you make a polite and funny comment, you are contributing to general wellbeing. If you add some solid data to a discussion, without sounding like a smart ass, the same applies. Use common sense.
  8. And most, most of all, don’t be condescending. Not with adults – not with kids. If you disagree with their opinion, their use of curse words, their dress code, or if you notice grammatical, spelling or style issues, restrain from making “polite” corrections, even if you add five emoticons after your condescending comment.

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