Recently I have been asked how to deal with negative political postings in online social media. People want to know how they can build an effective online community when some people insist on posting offensive, negative or political posts?This excerpt from my book The Gifts of Community: Changing Your Life by Changing Your World points out that solving the problem doesn’t begin with them, it begins with YOU – and your ability to follow this one simple rule: Don’t be offended.
If you are looking for a reason to be offended, you will find it on the Internet. There is such a wide range of expression, technological limitations on how to express it, and so much room for interpretation it is quite easy to be offended by a post or photo if you want to be. If you are already upset with someone for another reason, you will be able to find yourself disgusted with everything they post. They could post, “I believe in world peace for everyone!” and you could think, “What a show-off!” or “Everyone but me, I am sure!”
To be a positive participant in online community, you have to take responsibility for your own feelings of offense, and realize that they point to an issue you need to deal with personally. Don’t strike out in response. Write down what the person said, and make a short list of why this offends you. Go on a treasure hunt in your mind to discover why what they said triggered you like it did. You will realize that the offense you feel has absolutely nothing to do with what this person said. This will benefit you greatly. Starting an online war is a battle no one will win.
Rachel, who considered herself a normally reasonable and positive person, found herself inflamed one day by a controversial radio talk show’s comments about public support of reproductive health care for low-income women. As supporters of this position expressed their opinions on her online newsfeed, she found herself increasingly enraged. She resisted the temptation to respond for awhile until she could stand it no longer. In her efficient and precise writing style, she dissected every argument and shamed the posters for their beliefs with biting prose. As could be expected, her comments ignited more opinions, and before too long, she was in a full out, online comment war.
As things grew increasingly out of hand Rachel wondered how things had devolved so quickly and how she got herself into this mess. She knew immediately why. As a young teenager she had found herself with a sexually transmitted disease, the result of an unplanned evening with an older boy she barely knew. With nowhere to turn and no one to talk to, she found a public clinic, and there she was able to find medical assistance, counseling, and other support she needed to get control of her life.
Rachel’s emotional responses to the talk show host’s comments were complex. She felt loyalty to the program that helped her at such a difficult time. She felt shame and guilt for ever getting into that situation in the first place. And she felt fear that her daughter, who was now approaching the age of 15 and starting to date – might make the same mistakes that she once did.
Rachel was finally able to use her situation online to understand that she still had some deep hurts that she needed to address. She was also able to muster the courage to sit down with her daughter and have an open, direct and loving conversation about the issues that concerned her.
When your fingers are itching to hit the keyboard and start furiously typing out a passionate response to what someone has said, recognize that feeling, take a deep breath and think about how you can best respond to this learning opportunity. Here are a few other things to keep in mind if you are feeling offended by internet posts.
You are the person in charge of what you read. You can choose not to read those posts, or block the person sending them. Know how to use technology to create an online environment that is positive and healing for you.
Practice understanding. Not everyone is an expert communicator, and certain online forums require strong writing and grammatical skills to be used effectively. Give your friends a break, and assume the best, rather than the worse.
Address any concerns you have with someone offline, in e-mail or in person. There is no need to air your problems in a public forum, unless you are interested in recruiting allies against your friend, and being assured that you are right. This is the ego hard at work.
Be empathetic. Put yourself in their shoes. Don’t take their comments on surface value. Human beings are complex. There is always much, much more going on behind a 140 character or less opinion. Love them anyway.
While we are all scrambling to learn new online technologies in trainings, classes, and webinars our focus has been primarily on technology and not spirituality. The online world is a world of community, and because of this there are spiritual forces that cannot be escaped, controlled, or programmed. The only way we can defeat the potential good it offers is to use this incredible tool to share misery rather than hope – fear instead of love.
For more about navigating community in online environments, check out Chapter 11, Sharing Your Gifts @ Online.