Frustration ComputerI had a chance to witness an interesting exchange recently that went totally out of control.  This happens all the time in social media like Facebook or LinkedIn, and on email as well.

One person makes a comment which expresses a point of view – perhaps a little controversial, but it doesn’t even have to be that.  It may in fact be a totally reasonable comment in the way they view the world.

Then the comment raises the emotions of a reader.  Perhaps that person misunderstands the message or the intent, but perhaps it’s just something that wouldn’t be said the same way in their world.

So the reader responds with an off-the-cuff comment, not particularly polite or well though out.  Others jump in to respond to the escalating emotional level, and mayhem ensues.

I’ve even seen situations where someone will pop in and discover a conversation thread a year or two later, totally out of context, and reignite the whole thing for another month of chaos.

This kind of thing is happening WAY too much, and it’s turning people off of all forms of electronic communication.

I believe that we’re just now establishing new social norms for this way of communicating, but it hasn’t stabilized yet.  So it’s a “wild west” of unwritten rules, mistakes, and overreactions.  And maybe not all that different from the actual wild west, when normal rules of civilization were sometimes not in play.

If you’re involved in these kinds of social media interchanges and would like to help improve the situation, here’s some ideas:

  • If you want to have integrity with yourself, never post anonymously.  You adopt a different (and sometimes unhealthy) attitude when you believe you’re anonymous.  Take responsibility for what you say.
  • If you feel your emotions heating up, don’t respond.  Or if you do, wait 24 hours and re-edit your response twice.
  • Never attack people.
  • Look for the least confrontational way to criticize the idea.  But never criticize the person.
  • Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to the person face-to-face, with a bunch of others watching.
  • Never post something you might regret next week, next month, next year, or when you’re looking for your next job.

Gee, it’s sounding like I’m recommending that you never say ANYthing online!  Not exactly – what you want to nurture is things which are supportive, useful, and helpful.

And as a result you’ll probably avoid certain sections of the Internet, just because they make your blood boil.