Social media sites are useful for sharing news and common interests, advertising, giveaways, connecting old or distant friends, and in general, creating bonds across the miles - and yes, they are fun.
Those of you who follow my Facebook page know I mostly share things about words and writing, with a few funny cartoons thrown in. It automatically links with g-mail and Twitter, so my comments are forwarded to those places. But I am wary of what I post, because these sites have a destructive side, too.
Remember the old game of Gossip? Well, this is a billion times worse. There’s no going back on social media. No taking back something you posted in a momentary fit of anger. Information ‘goes viral’ in an instant. Think about why it’s called that. A definition of Virus is “a corrupting influence on morals or the intellect; poison.” In the medical world, a virus spreads rapidly and indiscriminately. Information on the internet does, too.
When someone places emotionally charged posts, ‘friends’ pass on the information along with their own comments ( ‘Yeah - and I heard…’ or ‘well, you know what they say…’ etc.), even though they have no knowledge of the issue or the other parties . In February, Facebook posted statistics that show that we are all connected by an average of 3.57 ‘degrees’ – that is, by three and a half people. This means, potentially, that if your post is ‘shared’ four times, it not only would be shared with EVERY PERSON ON FACEBOOK but with some of them twice.
So, by the time your friend shares with other friends that you don’t know, and they do the same with their own comments, whatever you have posted has reached everybody and grown into a monster. Suddenly, thousands of random people are ranting about something they have no REAL knowledge of, just because some vaguely connected stranger is doing the same…and there is only one side of the story being told. There’s no chance of rebuttal or retraction. It’s like trying to stop a buffalo stampede with a whisk broom.
Unfortunately, many people don’t question what they hear or the source of information before repeating it as gospel. It’s Groupthink - “… a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment”…. A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when… there are no clear rules for decision making.” (http://www.psysr.org/about/pubs_resources/groupthink%20overview.htm). Wow. …’deterioration of …reality testing and moral judgment’. Seems right on the button. We simply get carried away.
Social media is fun, but use caution. I know of one small business that has been destroyed, have friends who have lost jobs, one whose soon-to-be ex blackmailed him by threatening to post family secrets, and a few who have had other private information shared – because of personal vendettas conducted via social media.
Words change the world. They share themselves with millions of otherwise unconnected people. Choose them wisely, consider who you share them with, and contemplate all possible results. Remember the power and the ultimate responsibility you take.