What did you say?

I wouldn’t like to count how many times in a day I use the Internet. Between Facebook, Instagram, blogging, Twitter, I must be on the Internet for the majority of the time I am awake. And when I should be asleep! It is a wonder I have time to do anything else. Even when out and about, if I can’t find where I am going, I will whip out my phone and use the Map app, or check train times, or google a shop location.

But what happens when it goes sour? With the wonders and marvels of the Internet comes the other side: the trolling, the cyberbullying, the hiding behind your keyboard to tell people home truths you would not dare say to someone’s face. I write this post as a friendly reminder about social media. I will be writing another post about copying with cyberbullying at a later date.

I run different Instagram accounts, covering an array of different topics and areas of my life. 99% of the time, the interactions I have with people are positive. However, an incident happened last month that shocked me a little bit. Scrolling through the comments on one post, I noticed a couple of things being said that I found quite offensive. I am not here to name and shame, or even to tell you what was said, but for the first time since starting my accounts, I felt threatened. I am a big girl and knew what was being said were empty threats but still, I knew I didn’t deserve to be spoken to like that.

This got me thinking. I am strong enough to ignore these comments but I know that some people would have been really upset by them. That is the problem with the Internet. Written words have none of the qualities that speech has. There is no intonation, no facial expressions, no body language, which we take in without realising it to understand things that are said to us. The non-verbal cues that we take for granted because we don’t actively think about them.

A phrase like ‘shut up’ can be taken in a number of ways. The cast of TOWIE use it instead of ‘You’re kidding me.’ People say it in a playful way, in defence to being teased, or even in a ‘please carry on complimenting me’ way, but written down, the phrase is: Shut. Up. Sounds a bit aggressive doesn’t it? Just this week, a family member was teasing his mum that her texts are always in capital letters, making him think she is shouting at him. She replied that she had turned on her Caps Lock months ago and couldn’t get it off again! But he wasn’t to know that because all he could see were words that were being emphasised. No facial expressions, no loudness of voice to give him clues as to whether his mum was angry or not.

Back to Instagram, I wrote back a polite retaliation to my horrible comments saying that this language was inappropriate and I would prefer them to unfollow me if they thought it was an acceptable way to speak to someone, and all of a sudden I was inundated with messages from each guilty party saying how they hadn’t meant it, and I had interpreted it wrong, or they were only joking etc etc. I thanked them for their apology and there are no hard feelings between me and them, it is sorted now and all good. But I felt like this was a good example of what can happen while on the Internet. Things can be misinterpreted. While using the Internet, it is our responsibility to use it with care and keep in mind that words typed are just that: Words on a page. No intonation, no smiling while you say it, no playful slaps of arms to show you are speaking in jest.

People seem to find a new found sense of confidence when they are typing on a keyboard. I don’t believe for a second they would be brave enough to say those horrible things to someone’s face, but seem to find it easy when tweeting or commenting. Like the screen acts as a barrier to shield them from identity or the stress and drama of a face to face conversation.

I guess what I am trying to say is, please take a moment to think about the things you type to people on social media. Things can be misunderstood, misread, misinterpreted and someone will get hurt. Most probably both parties involved. Read the actual words you have written, removing the emotions from it, and see the words for what they are. And what they mean. It will bring us back to the intention of social media, to introduce us to people we wouldn’t ordinarily meet, to develop friendships with people of all walks of life. To connect us all.

Sarah x

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