Photo by Johan Larsson
It’s easy to be brave behind a screen.
One of the most common responses you will get when asking why people post things online that they would never say in “real life” is that it’s really easy to be brave when you’re behind a screen. In other words, Facebook gives you an opportunity to say those controversial things that you would never have the courage to say in a face-to-face meeting. That is the explanation often given for online trolls. They have a lot of repressed anger issues in their offline lives so they go online to appear to be brave and outgoing (or whatever they think they are). That might be part of the answer, but I don’t think it’s the whole answer.
I think the biggest problem with Facebook, and the best explanation as to why people post things they’d be humiliated to say face-to-face, is that we seem to separate ourselves from our offline reality when we use Facebook and other social media platforms. We forget that we are posting to real people who might take real umbrage at what we are posting. We forget that people who don’t know what context we are speaking in will see our content and get the very wrong idea. We hit “share” first and think about the consequences later, if at all.
How to handle rough content online
So what do you do when you encounter this kind of loose cannon content on Facebook? Your “blink” response may be that it’s your Facebook account and you can do whatever you want, including protesting that a post is too “ist.” There are two things you need to consider before you begin fighting off all of the tragically inappropriate content online.
First, if you list the company you are currently working for on your Facebook profile, you are not just representing yourself. By association you are also representing your company. There is certainly nothing wrong with combating racist or sexist behavior, but you have to bear in mind that those kinds of exchanges can escalate and get very ugly very fast. You do not want to get into a situation where you are getting in fights with people or acting inappropriately yourself.
Additionally, the sad truth is that some people post controversial content simply to get attention. They know that their post will be like a flame to moths and the comments will come rolling in. If a person is one of those types, offering your protestation will just be feeding the fire. This is a call you need to make on an individual basis. Unfortunately there is no “one size fits all” rule for the online world or for people.
How have you navigated the murky waters of the online world over the last difficult weeks? We’d love to hear your advice.