Social Media Manners: Do’s and Don’t of Internet Discourse

The internet is an amazing new tool. For many of us, it has served to help bridge the gap created by the stresses and structures of modern society that leave us separated from each other. On the internet, for those of us who are comfortable there, we can find a sense of community, camaraderie, connection, or as marketing pundit Seth Godin puts it “tribe”.

This is such a fundamental human need, that people are flocking to the internet to get these needs met. On their computers, their tablets, their phones – the younger the person, the less they seem to be able to disconnect from their electronic umbilical cord to their community. And this is not an entirely bad thing.

We tend to think of the internet, or our smart phones, as private communications. I think this is because of the expectation that letters and phone calls used to be. This is a misconception.

In the book “Bowling Alone” by Robert Putnam, he researched the decline of the American community and even extended family, symbolized by the extinction of a single, simple pastime: the bowling league. Why was it that Americans no longer took the time to bowl with their neighbors, let alone do anything else with their neighbors?

Far from no longer caring, his research showed that the 15-20 hours that we used to spend in community activity and community service, we now spend in our cars (or public transit) commuting. In our cars, alone. No wonder people are tempted to drive and talk or text on their phones. Of course they shouldn’t. But we actually need community so badly that we instinctively put our lives at risk to get it.

So the advent of being connected to one’s phone like an appendage, while a little disconcerting to those of us who would rather have a face to face conversation, is actually evidence of an emerging technical solution to a very real, organic human and social problem. We must connect to one another.

Why Connect?

Far from a social nicety, or personal luxury, our survival depends on our ability to connect with each other and trade information. Human beings have always known this. In cultures where less is available by purchase, and acquisition of useful and necessary things is more dependent on the goodwill of others than anything else, a great deal of importance is placed on the social graces of the culture, and you will notice that nothing happens very quickly if those social graces are not first observed.

The coin of those cultures is inter-personal respect, even kindness.

In some ways, the internet is recreating that situation for us, but our social graces have not yet caught up with the way we are using this technology.

We tend to think of the internet, or our smart phones, as private communications. I think this is because of the expectation that letters and phone calls used to be.

This is a misconception.

Many very young people already know this. To some of them it matters, to some of them it does not. Many of the upcoming generation do not have the presumption of privacy that we once had. They know that anything they post or type onto a key board or keypad has instantly become available to the world, immediately, or eventually, and there is little choice over the matter. You play the game, you take your chances.

Those of us less savvy tend not to stop and think before we hit send:

  • Would I be comfortable seeing this broadcast to millions of people?
  • Would I be willing to stand behind this in court?
  • Would I be able to withstand having this revealed before everyone I know, both personally and professionally, for the rest of my life?
  • Web Communication is Not Just Public, It’s Broadcast and Publishing
  • Because there is an almost permanent, and continuously copied record of everything we upload, the presumption of privacy is not only erroneous, it is unfortunately naïve.
  • Even a public conversation can only be overheard once. At worst, a recorded conversation can only be recorded and manipulated, but at least it has one’s tone of voice included.
  • Words and pictures, or videos are considered intentional, directed products in this culture. The line between professional media and amateur media is now so blurred as to be immaterial. One’s credibility stands on its own.
  • This is mostly a good thing
  • Until something you have said, or done on the web is taken out of context. Then your credibility becomes something which can be used against you.

For example:
And innocent discussion, including photographic images, of how to do a proper breast exam, suddenly becomes exploitation on your behalf when rebroadcast on Youtube.com without your permission or the patient’s. Not to mention extreme HIPPA violations, and openings to a number of lawsuits.

But I Was On a Private Site!?

There is no such thing. As a recent article in the Wall Street Journal illustrates

” Websites such as Yahoo and Facebook are not only under no obligation to protect your privacy, they are more than happy to trade on your information should they have the opportunity.”

“Privacy critics including the American Civil Liberties Union say Facebook has slowly shifted the defaults on its software to reveal more information about people to the public and to Facebook’s corporate partners.”

“Users are often unaware of the extent to which their information is available,” says Chris Conley, technology and civil-liberties attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “And if sensitive info is released, it is often impossible to put the cat back in the bag.”

And, even if the website vendors themselves are no concern, all it takes is one hacker, one disgruntled member of a group to copy and republish something you have uploaded. Once you have given it out, it is considered fair game. And even if it is horrible manners, has horrible consequences, and is terribly hurtful to someone, good luck tracking down the leak.

“Groups: As the WSJ reports, any Facebook friend can add you to a group, including ones open to the public or ones with closed membership but visible to others. After a friend invites you, Facebook adds you to the group without seeking your prior approval, and meanwhile any of your friends may receive notification that you’re in the group, and (if the group is public) read the conversations inside.

Tags: Friends can tag you in posts, including in photos. Facebook offers you the option, if you turn it on, to review those tags before they show up on your Timeline. But even if you have tag-review turned on, you remain tagged in those posts in other places they might show up on Facebook, including your friends’ News Feeds. You can later untag yourself, but only after the fact.

Photos: What happens if a friend — or enemy — posts an unflattering photo of you? Since the photo belongs to your friend, you don’t have the ability to take it off of Facebook. Instead, you have to ask your friend to remove the photo. Or, if the photo is particularly egregious, you can report it to Facebook as being “offensive,” or otherwise violating the site’s policies.”

Should I Avoid The Internet?

No, of course not. In this day and age, that would be like avoiding discourse altogether. Worse, the internet is the best source of education, networking and marketing that you have for your profession and practice.

In this day and age, however, a solid dose of manners and publishing etiquette might be considered at the same time. Never be afraid to speak your mind, facts or the truth.

However, it is never necessary to vilify or reveal the privacy of others while doing so.

It’s pretty simple:

Be accurate. Be kind. Be polite. Be discrete.

You can’t go wrong with that.

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