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Posted August 21, 2014 by Tim Wells in Tim's Thoughts

We’ve Taken the Social Out of Social Media

I was initially hesitant to write this post. I wasn’t sure how to approach the topic. Then, my friend Michael said this:
The Facebook wisdom of actor Michael Broderick
Really, I didn’t need to wait six days to realize that the most difficult part of this post is coming up with a title. Because the message is actually quite simple:

We all need to be more considerate of each other.

My Facebook timeline has been full of debate lately, from topics as inflammatory as the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, to issues as seemingly benign as courtship vs. dating. To say that the discussions have been “lively” would be putting it mildly.

I’m all for debate and discussion. But social media has given everybody a platform to say and do whatever they want, without the repercussion of face-to-face contact with other people. Somewhere along the way, activism was replaced with simply filling up everyone’s Facebook timelines with links to articles and blog posts that reinforce our positions. Sure, I understand the important role of technology and social media in today’s political and social scene, but the signal-to-noise ratio I’m seeing isn’t benefiting anyone. It’s actually making it more difficult to have a sincere, open-minded conversation.

A year ago, I was neck deep in politics. I blogged about it, I engaged it on social media, I co-hosted a podcast about it, I attended conferences about it, and I spent free time reading about it and watching shows about it. Then, one day, I realized that it was making me miserable. It was just one “side” yelling at another “side,” and never having any fruitful conversations of any sort. Even within my own camp, the division and toxicity was staggering. So I decided to jump ship and focus my efforts where I felt they could actually have an impact: my family, my friends, my community. My principles and worldview haven’t changed. But my approach has.

What I’m seeing right now in my Facebook and Twitter feeds feels a lot like what I was seeing a year ago. There’s not much of an attempt being made to truly understand the issues or people’s reactions to them. Instead, it’s just a competition to see who can have the loudest response. After I wrote a post about Robin Williams last week, a (former) Facebook friend took issue and basically said that my (and others) struggles with depression weren’t important, because there are bigger things to worry about, like ISIS.

This is a perfect example of getting so wrapped up in your own pet issues, that you lose your ability to empathize with your community, whether local or online. As my friend Josh put it, “The reality is that he (the former Facebook friend) will likely never have any direct contact with anyone affected by ISIS, or be able to make the least bit of difference in the outcome. But he will almost certainly come into contact with someone affected by mental illness.”

Look, the purpose of this post isn’t to tell you which issues to care about. It’s to point out that everyone cares and feels deeply about something. Is spending our time tearing everyone around us down, in an attempt to be the last one heard, really the most effective way to spread our messages?

In closing, I want to leave you with a couple more things to think about.

1. Most people vote, act, and live in the manner that they feel best benefits them and their family. Whether you agree with them or not, the fact is that the majority of people are not doing what they are doing, or voting how they are voting, or living how they are living, to spite or harm anyone else. I’m NOT saying you have to agree with them. Not at all. What I AM saying is that there is plenty of evil and hurt in the world without looking for it where you needn’t.

2. Wherever there is misery, you’ll find an eager, ravenous media. I don’t care which news outlets you follow, or what their initials are. FOX, MSNBC, CNN… the fact is, the media profit off of tragic stories. And even if they don’t know all the facts of a developing story, they have plenty of pundits and commentators who can wring the tragedy out of bits and pieces of hearsay, conjecture, and “educated” guesses. So, when quoting and linking to your favorite media personalities, please keep in mind that they don’t know your friends and family. They don’t know their personal battles and how the story might affect them. But you should. And if you don’t, perhaps your time would be better spent listening instead of speaking.

My local and online friends have wildly varying political and religious beliefs. There are times when one of them will say something, and my knee-jerk reaction is to go on the offensive. In those moments, I try to keep these words in mind, often attributed to the philosopher Plato:
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
I think we could all use a little more kindness and a little less battle.

Tim Wells

Dad, husband, gamer, blogger, geek. Not necessarily in that order.