Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The painful truth about social media

My trusty dictionary includes this in the entry under social:

* Marked by pleasant companionship with one's friends.
* Of or relating to human society.

For media, the entry includes the following:

* A means of effecting or conveying something.
* A channel or system of communication, or entertainment.

It has been quite a week in Niagara, with politicians' actions and resulting inactions on social media, and an employee losing his job over comments posted anonymously on an online news media site that were critical of some decisions and actions taken by his employer.

Watching on the sidelines the past week as I have been, I have taken notes on what has - and has not transpired - with this whole situation.  As a media veteran of 40 years who has practiced responsible journalistic practices over that lengthy period of time, I have some thoughts to share on how to conduct yourself on social media.

First of all, we need to remember social media is just that:  social.  That means not private.  You can utilize filters all you want, but if something makes it to the internet, there basically is no turning back.

Social media is also media.  That means a form of communication, most often for public consumption.  Once again, not private.

If you make a statement of any kind on just about any social media or online platform, be it Twitter, Facebook, a blog or whatever, rest assured it will not go unnoticed.  So it is wise to be careful what you put out there to begin with.  Like it or not, what you post is a reflection of you, of who you are and what your value system is.

This is especially important to remember for public figures of any kind, be they politicians, entertainers or high-profile business leaders.  In fact, all of these people are often held to a higher standard than the rest of the public because of their stature, and as a result they should conduct themselves accordingly.

That does not mean, however, the rest of us dunks get off Scott-free.  Consider a party you go to and pictures are taken of you knocking back tequila shots while romping around in a thong bikini (for purposes of clarification I am assuming the person is female in this instance!) and the pictures tag you on Facebook, for example.

That same week, you have an important job interview and as part of the process of candidate selection, the prospective employer checks you out on Facebook and finds those same pictures.  Now, you may have been cavorting innocently enough, but the visual being presented cannot confirm that.  "Hmmm, is this the person I want in the organization?" they may ask.  Don't laugh, this can and does happen, all too often in fact.

Now I'm not suggesting you can't have fun on social media.  Quite the contrary.  But just remember others can see it too.  The old maxim "If you don't think your mother would be happy to see that post, perhaps you shouldn't post it" might sound like a killjoy, but it does apply here.

Or consider this scenario:  you are employed by a level of government and you are posting criticisms about that very level of government that employs you.  But you do so anonymously.  Sound familiar?  What does that say about you?

Aside from the obvious, that you are biting the hand that feeds you in this instance, it suggests to me you would rather hide behind your words rather than stand behind them.  You do not hold the strength of your convictions in high enough regard that you can associate yourself with them publicly.

Look, anyone can post a rant on social media anonymously, and of course, many do.  But it is a cowardly act, in my mind.  You might just as well be skulking around in the shadows, hiding from view for fear you are found out.

Time was, the Letters to the Editor section of the local paper was the sounding board for many of us, but before the comments were published the paper would contact you to verify the comments.  That means you had to include your name and phone number when you made your submission.  Now with online comment sections made up of largely anonymous postings, many news sources both locally and beyond are doing away with them due to that very fact.

Everything I write, everything I post, my name is attached to it, and that is as it should be.  Although my Twitter handle is @finemusicman, my name is clearly stated in the masthead of my Twitter page.

There have been times I have gotten into trouble due to comments I made in my blog postings, for example.  But my name was on it and I stood behind my comments and defended them.  You should do no less yourself.

When did we become a society bent on making hurtful comments just because we think being anonymous we can get away with it?  Is that the kind of society you want to live in?  I don't.

Social media can have many benefits, but only if we utilize it properly.  Just as journalists adhere to certain standards, if you enter that realm via social media and post for whatever reason, you should adhere to certain standards of decency and integrity as well.  A journalist gets a byline for their work and you should, too.

Remember, post responsibly.  And stand behind your posts.  It's only fair.

July 15th, 2015.

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