Previously published on Blogetary 1.0 June 2013.
This will be a meta-post since I’m using a form of social media to discuss social media, and I will use other forms of social media to promote this post, but such is life.
Social media is a form of communication, actually it’s many forms of communication all here on the interwebs, and it’s not going anywhere, though it may evolve into something completely different in a few years. Ten years ago I was using MySpace, Tribe.net and email. Ten years before that I was using postcards, stamps and the occasional phone call or letter to communicate. Now I use a WordPress blog, a Blogger blog, GoodReads, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and my websites and email. I sometimes find gigs and jobs through Monster.com and Guru.com. I advertise PuttPuttProductions.com not only in the classified section of a hardcopy newspaper (the Larchmont Chronicle) but also through Craigslist.com and Backpage.com. I have two (relatively inexpensive) websites: PuttPuttProductions.com for my proofreading and copyediting and RachelVOlivier.com for my published work.
In 1993 I printed out stories or poetry I worked on in long hand and then used either a typewriter or borrowed a friend’s computer to get them in typed form, and then mailed them with a submission letter to magazines and agents found in the back of the Writers Digest or Poetry magazines, which I picked up at the bookstore. In 2003, I was emailing at least half my submissions as electronic documents to magazines (hardcopy and online) I had researched online. Now, many places are online ‘zines only and have an upload program that will safely accept virus free electronic submissions of poetry, short stories and novels. And these are to markets discovered through several aggregate sites that track the submissions. Or, if I really want to go crazy, I can use Smashwords, CreateSpace, Lulu or other sites to publish my work all by my own self.
Who knows what this landscape will look like 10 years from now. And that’s just me. I’m relatively unsophisticated in the realm of social media, where people use SmartPhones with Bluetooth to check on everything from dinner plans to credit scores and FB status updates (I’m still on a prepaid T-Mobile clamshell phone). And that doesn’t count Flickr, InstaGram, HooteSuite, Google, or other social media sites. Nor does it count all the discussions that occur in threads on newspaper sites or other news and topical aggregate sites.
Social Media used to be something that people did when their bosses were not around, or after work and on weekends as something fun to do other than their “real life”. It was semi-clandestine and where people met to “hook up”. It was seen as semi-obscene. People would mumble quietly at parties, “Yeah, check out my MySpace page.” Or maybe they’d meet someone through Match.com before it was considered acceptable, so both parties who met would agree to tell others they “met through friends” rather than admit to meeting in an AOL chat room or on Match.com or Friendster. Back then, there was no social protocol for interacting online. People came up with emoticons to use to express feelings (though we are still waiting for an acceptable sarcasm font). Now you have to have a LinkedIn profile if you’re going to look for a job, as well as have your resume online at Monster, and companies work to make sure they have a good Facebook page and Twitter account.
Social Media has had a rocky journey, however. It was discovered fairly early on by regular users in the “bad old days” that in using a faceless social media profile, people could get really obnoxious and also rather creepy. While this facelessness created a freedom for people to be whoever or whatever they wanted to be and explore different aspects of themselves (important to many people still), this also meant that common rules of social etiquette and protocol were thrown out various internet windows and sent crashing to their doom. Stalkers, bullies, trolls, flamers also became part of this internet societal landscape.
Since then, many of the rules have been resuscitated, dusted off and reborn, updated for a 21st century group of communicators. Suggestions have been put in place for dealing with bullies, stalkers, trolls and flamers. Go anywhere online and you can find a list of these rules and suggestions for online social etiquette. They may vary from site to site, but the gist of it is (as was with in person etiquette) be kind, be considerate, and think before you speak/post/wade in.
I’m not going to go over that list. If you’re savvy enough to find this blog and skim through the above nodding your head in familiarity, then you’re savvy enough to Google and find a list (which means it’s easy peasy). What I am going to pull out, however, are a small set of little rules that I keep in mind for myself. They (sort of) work for me. I will share them here to help anyone else out there that might want to keep things simple.
1) Think before you post. Like safety rules of the road — look around for incoming traffic. Where are you? Is it a public or private forum? How much traffic is there and what kinds is it? Are the people a semi-homogenous group of friends, or a disparate set of individuals from all over? Is there a moderator and what are they like? Do they wade in and call for reasonableness when people become uncivilized or are they pretty much non-existent and let anything go? Once you have nailed down where you are in the interwebs then you can decide how (or even if) you want to weigh in on a discussion. For example, while I am on Facebook and pretty much keep my profile open to the public, I also belong to many closed groups on Facebook. That way I can share things privately with people I trust online in the closed groups or share other things more openly on my Facebook profile. In a closed group, I have a better idea of the people who will get involved in a discussion, how they will react, what is an acceptable joke, what is not, what can be shared and what may not be shared. On my public profile, I try to keep it easy — kitties, puppies, writing, with the occasional political/personal post. I have a lot of friends who aren’t necessarily on the same page as I am in regards to religious-socio-political beliefs and stances. So, I try to keep it easy, but I also don’t lie about who I am. And I try (really I do) to follow Natalie Goldberg’s advice from Writing Down the Bones: Be Kind, Be Kind, Be Kind.
2) Be canny. Manage your information, just like the spin doctors do. You are in charge of what is out there. Some people have their profile on the internet on lock down. If you’re not a direct friend or family member you get nuthin’. That’s fine. That’s great. If that’s what you want, use the tools available to you create it, and check back and update your profiles. Facebook, for one, is constantly changing how they do things. Check your privacy settings occasionally to make sure they are where you want them to be. If someone has tagged you in a photo that you don’t want to be tagged in, then go in there and untag it (and don’t make a fuss about it, just do it). If someone asks you to untag them, then do it and let it go. They are controlling their information and that is their right.
Also, make sure that what people see in your public profile is what you want them to see. For example, I want people to easily find my Putt Putt Productions page, as well as my websites, so I make sure that’s easy to find on my Facebook profile. Some photo albums I have set to private and other photo albums I have set to public. Sometimes I’ll make an album public for a time so I can show it to some friends, and then set it back to private later. I also take advantage of the “About” section to put out there what I want people to know about me before they friend me.
On my FB profile it lists marital status and birthday (without the year) for friends only because I like getting birthday greetings and I want to meet people, but I’m not stupid. I also have my gender and religious-socio-political leanings posted so people know what they’re getting before they friend me (Religious Views: Very VERY liberal Christian with Zen/Taoist/Wiccan leanings; Political Views: Feminist/Democratic Socialist (that means VERY LIBERAL), prochoice, pro marriage equality, pro union, etc.). Above all remember that once your information is out there, it’s out there. Yes, you can go through and delete things, but someone somewhere may still have seen it and saved it. And years later someone will remember you whining about your boss or your job, or one day that pic of you tossing up your dinner in your friend’s bathroom after a night of drinking might show up somewhere. But don’t panic. If something like that does show up, own up to it and move on and manage your information.
(On a side note here: Also keep your profile log in username and password somewhere where you friends and family members can find it. If you have a will, make sure to assign an executor of your online profiles. This way if something happens to you — if you’re ill or if you die — you have someone who can either take care of your online profile or shut it down so that no one else can get to it, hack it, and use it for their own nefarious purposes.)
3) You can always walk away. Remembering this has saved my sanity more times than I can count (which may or may not be impressive depending on if you’re a music major who only counts to four or a mathematician who tracks the infinity of pi). Just remember that if a discussion gets too upsetting for you, if it pushes too many emotional buttons for you, or if you think it’s idiotic, or you’re just plain tired and want to go to bed — You and ONLY YOU have the freedom to WALK AWAY from the discussion. You can pick up a book, do your embroidery, play Scrabble, watch the news, call a friend or go to bed. But you can walk away. It’s especially advantageous if you can walk away before things get nasty. Learn the road signs to a bad discussion thread. Watch for the signs. If it looks like the discussion has taken a bad turn and isn’t likely to come back to a decent level of civility, then walk away. If you have to, and know that just being around the thread will pull you in, then leave the forum or group.
On Facebook you can control what you see in the newsfeed that you scroll through each day. If you have a friend who is posting games or pictures or articles or making comments you don’t like seeing, but you want to remain friends with them, you can make it so you don’t have to see that feed but still keep them as friends. If you don’t know how to do this, hover/place the cursor without click over your friend’s name. A window will pop open. Down at the bottom you will see a button called Friends. Hover over this button. You will see a list of what they can post. You can either go to “Notifications” to uncheck things like photos and games, etc., or you can uncheck “Show in News Feed” so you never have to see their stuff again — unless you go to their wall to see how they’re doing. You can also put them in as “acquaintances” so you don’t see everything they post. You can also unfriend someone and block them as a last resort, but if you’re like me and have a variety of friends the idea is to keep your friends and, like the Victorian days of old, stay away from too many political or religious discussions.
Whatever you choose (the operative word here — CHOOSE) to do you can do it.
And the ultimate choice, of course, is to walk away. You have the agency to do this, so take charge of your online life. If you need to, just walk away.
In Sum: Be smart. Be kind. Be canny. Be cool.
Take charge of your social media experience, because chances are social media is going to be around for a long time.