All of us recognize our own evolution, whether we have ever put it into words. We see that our ideas about things have changed over time. We recognize that our experiences have changed us, improved us, informed us on many levels. But the person you haven’t spoken to in two years or five or ten likely remembers you exactly as you were the last time you were in touch. Sure, with the prevalence of social media, you may have had casual contact with them, may have shared some pictures, and they may realize that you have a new job, a new lifestyle, new family members, and so on. But in their mind’s eye, you are still that person you were when last you had personal contact.
So it is with many social media “friends.” People you haven’t seen in person or spoken to on the phone for years have this obsolete idea of you, and you of them. You think you know each other, but really you don’t, at least not anymore. You are basically strangers who were once acquainted. Couple that relative unfamiliarity with a random comment by one of you on social media, the tone of which is ambiguous, and you have fertile ground for a misinterpretation. Let’s face it, most comments on social media are ambiguous because you can’t hear the speaker’s tone or see their facial expressions. Add a simple typo by a reader who comments, and you have a social media disaster in the making.
You’ve got two people who really have no idea whatsoever about the each other’s intent or perspective, and a few words typed on a message thread can turn into a huge misunderstanding. Most of us would let something like this pass or simply ask for clarification. But many folks view such awkward exchanges as an opportunity to attempt to embarrass, cajole, or even humiliate a person that may have made a simple mistake. Why is this necessary? Has the commenter who made a mistake hurt you? Have you deemed them to be so stupid as to deserve a public flogging? Does it simply make you feel better to take your irritation out on someone who is distant, removed, inconsequential to you? From correcting someone’s grammar or spelling, to making a big deal out of a simple misunderstanding, there are a lot of folks stabbing at others with their words on social media.
Perhaps this is a lesson in when to refrain from commenting. Possibly, it is a nod to the difficulties of having online “friends” that you’ve never met or with whom you rarely have contact – maybe the occasional phone call would be a better way of keeping in touch. Maybe it is an example of how tone and intent are impossible to convey in the two-dimensional format of social media applications. Between people who recognize these challenges, fun and informative exchanges are possible and, in fact, take place every day. Not so when someone decides to be rude. Unless, of course, they are doing it simply because they enjoy it.
Across the table at a coffee shop or across the world on a computer screen, if you claim to be my “friend” in however casual a context, and you take a simple misunderstanding and turn it into an attack, you are a jerk. Even worse, once you make a snarky comment, it becomes open season for the other people on your feed who are completely unacquainted with that person to follow suit. It’s like a virtual lynching with you holding the rope.
I don’t know who my social media friends think I am, but I am not a bully and I try not to insult other people. I will unfriend someone or block them before I will resort to rude or angry comments. Why? Because I have made the mistake of engaging in such hostilities in the past and found it very disturbing. It’s just not who I am.
I wouldn’t tolerate you being a jerk to me over coffee and I sure as hell won’t tolerate it on social media, either. If you need to bully people or point out their every mistake because you derive some pleasure from it, you are no friend of mine.