Let me say up front that I do not have a problem with free speech. It is one of the amazing liberties that we enjoy here in the United States. We are all entitled to our perspective and opinions. We have the right to speak our mind – like it or not. But it isn’t always easy, is it? When people’s behavior, actions and words run so contrary to what you believe in, honoring everyone’s right to speak out can be hard.
I blog. I’m the first to say that when I feel strongly about something, I will write about it. Having had a really awful customer experience with a particular company, I wrote about that experience and called them on it. What I did not do is make it personal! Individual names of the people involved were not revealed. But the company itself, I felt, wasn’t listening to their customers, and I decided to say something.
The problem that I have with free speech and social media is that any of us can be attacked unfairly. Reputations can be damaged or ruined because of someone else’s thoughtless actions. In a recent New York Times article, Dealing with Digital Cruelty, Pew Research reported that 69 percent of adult social media users said they “have seen people being mean and cruel to others on social network sites”. I’ve witnessed bully behavior on blogs, on Twitter, Facebook and even in LinkedIn groups. The problem appears to be escalating.
In the days before social media, if you wanted to air your grievance about someone else, there were ways to do it. The best approach would be to take it up with the individual directly. Or, you could send emails and letters to your colleagues or get on the phone and gripe to whoever would listen. Today, if you are ticked off enough you can sit down, pound out an angry blog post, and in minutes blast it to the world. The problem is that the poison pen has consequences.
While I won’t share the details of the firestorm that prompted me to write today, I will say that I am disheartened. Pretending to have the best of motives does not justify ambushing someone online and doing potential harm to their reputation. I don’t buy the caped crusader act. Justify your reasons until the cows come home… it was still the wrong thing to do!
Right now, I have more questions than answers.
- When adults, who are supposed to be leaders in their field, revert to such cowardly and childish behavior, what does that say?
- When did we stop remembering to assume the best – not the worst – in people?
- Why is it that once someone gets the bully ball rolling, others show up to twist the knife too?
- What can be done about the cowards who get other people to bully on their behalf?
- Why don’t people check the facts before jumping in to add their two cents?
- Why will so many people sit back and watch the character assignation in horror, but never say a word even when it is the right thing to do?
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to everything, I suppose. Social media’s dark side is that there are people reacting without thinking about how their words and actions may do harm. Community is NOT about bashing others in a public, online forum. No one is perfect; everyone makes mistakes, but when you cast stones, you’ve opened the door to others casting stones at you too. In the end, no matter how long it takes, what goes around always comes around!
UPDATE 08/29/14: I made a personal decision to remove a comment that would only serve to focus more attention on an already appalling situation. Ironically, the commenter chided me for not exposing him as the blogger whose post sparked my desire to write mine. All I can say is that I DO NOT believe that you call individuals out publicly. That’s not who I am. That also isn’t needed to make my point. While the post in question firmed my decision to write my story, I’ve seen this kind of thing happening online far too many times. It was time to speak my mind.