This is part of a post I wrote exactly eight years ago this week. I’m updating it a little but not by much. Most of my original message still stands. A lot has changed in our world, but sadly, my plea for people to shift their actions on social media, although many call for this same change, has not happened.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13: 34-35
In 2012, we had an election looming over us, just as we do today. Today, we suffer through the same bombardment of annoying political ads on TV and radio. Back then, I avoided them by using my DVR. Now I use streaming services and avoid most commercials. What’s a little harder to avoid, now as well as then, is the onslaught of personal attacks on social media. That, my friends, is worse, not better. Below is what I said about this:
Part of My 2012 Post
Why do my “friends” think I need to read every little bit of political propaganda that they find? Some people choose to only post political comments during this time, and not just one a day. The frequency that some of them post these comments begs the questions: “Do they have a life? Are they doing anything else?” [2020 note, I know for many, thanks to Covid-19, they don’t.]
I don’t know why they think I want to log on to Facebook and read their political rants. Granted, I can scroll right on past those messages, but it’s frustrating when I have to scroll forever to find something friendly and non-political.
These people seem to have forgotten that Facebook and Twitter are forms of social media. Social, not political. Usually, when I hear the word social, I think of friendly gatherings, not attacks on people’s belief systems. Unfortunately, those who seem bent on non-stop political posts often make derogatory comments about the people who disagree with them. In many cases, these are the very friends who turn around and like your baby and animal pictures. Do they not realize how their negative comments alienate their friends and cancel out any good will from their “likes”? In some cases, I’ve unfriended “friends” who forced their opinions on me non-stop.
We are a country of free speech. You have the right to believe what you want to believe, but what happened to good manners?
What’s Changed Since Then?
In 2020, I have a better understanding of what’s happening to people online. I spend a good bit of time researching materials for training topics. A few months ago, while reading a white paper on Emotional Intelligence, I ran across a new term: cyber disinhibition. This phenomena explains why people say cruel and nasty things to each other online. Things they’d never say to a person face-to-face.
What is cyber disinhibition?
People are wired for face-to-face interaction. Communications online do not engage our brains properly. Cyber disinhibition—the situation that occurs when our treatment of others online doesn’t align with how we would treat them in person–is the culprit behind these angry social media attacks.
What causes cyber disinhibition?
When we’re face-to-face with someone, we have emotional centers of the brain that record everything the other person is saying and doing. This happens quickly, and unconsciously, in the brain’s subcortex. The brain processes this information and tells us how to respond. During this process, the prefrontal cortex inhibits any emotional impulse to do or say something that can hurt the other person. Online, without body language or tone, we’re flying blind. We’re not engaging these parts of the brain, so we lash out and say very unkind things.
This knowledge makes me feel better. Why? Because I can observe the text battles online through this lens. I, also, can force myself to think twice before I post. Those who don’t pause and think are, at that moment, behaving without emotional intelligence.
In John 13, Jesus washed the disciples feet and then told them to love one another. He asked them to do this, so people would see their love as an aspect of being one of his disciples. Try to keep this command in your mind when you venture onto social media, and maybe, you’ll avoid posting something you would never say in person.
Be kind. Be compassionate. Be forgiving.