Online Communication and What it Means for Our Offline Lives
Earlier this fall, comedian Louis C.K. shared a new slew of philosophical and comedic rants on CONAN (parts of this clip are NSFW), this time pondering the strange concept of social media and its weird effects on human behavior. Besides his now famous rant (“Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy”) on all-too-eager Internet users and their proclivity for immediacy, this time Louis C.K. announced his frustration that his young daughters’ generation no longer understands the implications behind rude behavior, thus the cycle of cyber-bullying appears far from subsiding. In the interview, the comedian describes that when kids bully others online or via text messaging they don’t see a physical reaction from the victim of the bullying, such as if a child cries or shows some other physical reaction to feelings being hurt, so therefore the aggressor doesn’t process that what they did or said was wrong or that their actions had any sort of consequence.
Unfortunately, this behavior isn’t exclusive to children and teenagers. The Internet is full of bad-talking, trolling, hate Tweets, and other discouraging dialogue pretty much wherever you go. Any comments section, on nearly any kind of post – whether a review of a tech gadget, a recap of a TV show, or a simple news article – contains negative talk. This type of online communication has created a culture of anonymous people sometimes taking things too seriously – nitpicking at every word and what are likely unintentional undertones – to not taking things seriously at all – do we really need to write mean things in the comments section under a famous person’s obituary?
With these concerns, how can we create a culture that doesn’t allow such negativity to flood our online news feeds and how can we hold anonymous users accountable for the things they type? Unfortunately, the person who types the messages of hate or bullying doesn’t think there are repercussions, and when there are repercussions that person may not even know that it happens – with the simple close of a browser one can brush off anything they may have done online. This is a complicated issue – how does one prove intent in a comment that can be read and (mis)understood in different ways and tones?
Part of the answer is digital literacy, which is gaining traction in education. Another part of the answer is the importance of teaching social manners and what has been given the moniker ‘netiquette.’ Of course, when teaching netiquette there should be more and more emphasis on the fact that there is always a person on the other side of an online or text exchange. Lastly, a third part of the answer is teaching the value in ‘disconnecting’ from time to time in order to reconnect with the tangible things in our lives – such as embracing good ol’ fashioned face to face, or voice to voice, communication with family and strangers alike. This is particularly helpful for the field of public relations and how PR specialists can assist both their clients and their clients’ clientele. Always being on the pulse of digital media is vital to the business – yet so is the need to communicate in an assortment of ways to avoid miscommunication. Even changing a conference call to an in-person meeting from time to time not only re-establishes personal relationships but it also leaves little room for ambiguity.
The more transparent we can be with our intentions via faceless communications the better we can be at interpreting the often vague and the often sensationalized stories that pop up on our online newsfeeds. That said, everything we consume online should be audited in a new way – it should be given a reality check. Too often we are fooled by Twitter hoaxes when we really should know better. Sometimes these jokes can be funny and harmless, but sometimes they might not be. One simply needs to stop and think if there may be serious negative repercussions to their online actions before they click ‘Tweet.’
If we can keep in mind the human factor in all this, hopefully we’ll see less people, and too often adolescents, taking drastic and even devastating measures in response to things like online bullying. If we can remember just that, then hopefully we can make the Internet a more positive place where we spend our time, not to mention our lives. There is plenty of evidence of how the Internet is a positive tool, it’s just time that we don’t abuse that tool and take it, and each other, for granted.