The Internet is amazing. In seconds we can have contact with our family and friends across the globe and we can keep in touch with people we rarely get a chance to see in person. With just the click of a send or post button, we can share our stories and our pictures with pretty much anyone and everyone we like. Right throughout the world we are all now within easy reach of each other.
The internet and especially social media can be a cohesive, positive and even enriching force in our lives but it can also be a very destructive one. The absence of our physical selves in our online interactions can make these communications difficult and sometimes even downright destructive. The auto-inhibitor that comes from the in-the-moment experience of the other person’s reaction to our verbal words is absent in online communication. Online we can simply dodge watching or feeling the effect our words have on the other person and this has the capacity to make us careless, less considerate, more unkind and potentially even cruel.
For young people these online interactions take place on personally held devices, in the privacy of their bedrooms or other personal spaces. This is a private arena where they can feel autonomous and free from parental supervision and this, in many ways, is a normal stage of their emotional development. Occasionally however, managing their online life can extend beyond their ability particularly where content and messages are designed to intimidate, exclude or humiliate. This happens through gossip and online chat or by shared unsuitable or hurtful images and videos and the effects can be overwhelming and cause exclusion and social isolation and give rise to depression and anxiety. In these situations it is important that teenagers and adolescents have access to parental or adult support they can call upon if the need arises.
We have all seen the destructive effects of social media in recent months in high profile celebrity cases, but also among those whose lives we can more easily identify with and the consequences have shocked us. We need to be constantly mindful of the effect our messages and responses can have on others so as not to cause distress or harm.
Here are a few basic rules to bear in mind as we interact online so that we can continue to harness the positive connectivity of the internet for ourselves but ensure we don’t hurt each other unnecessarily along the way.
- Remember that posted messages are indelible and they can wound deeply and while remorse and regret can be expressed later, the damage will have been done and sometimes in very public view.
- Don’t say anything online that you would be uncomfortable saying to another in person.
- Take a moment before you hit ‘send’ or ‘post’ and consider: Does it have the potential to hurt someone? Might you regret this tomorrow or the following day?
- Take a deep breath and be certain your motivation for posting this message is sound and not an expression of anger or frustration. What is it you are trying to achieve? Do you want to share or to impart something important or really is it to make yourself look good and if so, is this at the expense of another?
- Don’t share or retweet mean or hurtful remarks. It’s understandable to want to be part of something you might identify with but be careful that you are not adding to someone else’s hurt.
- Apologise if you are wrong. It is simply the right thing to do and that applies just as much online as it does in person.
- Remember that what you post reflects on you and says something about who you are as a person so don’t inflict harm on yourself that you don’t deserve.