Wednesday, January 2, 2013

We Are All Children on facebook

The recent social media frenzy of people taking opposing positions on gun control after the Sandy Hook massacre reminded me of something I've been thinking about for quite some time. We are all children on facebook. All of us. This is true for social media across the board, but facebook (perhaps because it has over 1 billion users as of 2012), brings out the worst in our interpersonal communication skills.

We are all having to relearn how to communicate with each other through social media.  Personal networking, on facebook in particular, is like being in an elementary school yard playground.  There are different attitudes, cliques, and social perspectives.  All of them impact our interactions online and sometimes even in person.

Facebook is like a toy.  Perhaps what you call a toy is called a tool by some. It can be a tool to learn from, but a tool becomes a toy when it becomes a distraction.  When was the last time you let a week or even a day go by without logging into, reading about, or hearing someone talking about facebook.  

Perhaps it's because we all have different reasons for using facebook.  For most of us, it is about making and maintaining personal connections with new and long forgotten relationships.  But, just like our face-to-face relationships, we have to learn (or re-learn) why we want to connect or even stay connected.  So, what are some ways we can improve our facebook interpersonal communication skills?

Be transparent
Say (comment, post, share) thoughts you would also say in person.  Since thought is nested in speech (and our written communications), there is nothing wrong with speaking (or writing) what's on your mind.  It's easy to be a social media lurker or hide behind snide comments and smiley faces. But if you are transparent, you will soon learn who your online friends really are. 

Take time to read
If you see a comment from someone that relates to an article, read the article before formulating a response.  Comments and quotes taken out of context demonstrate a desire to share but not necessarily a complete depiction of someone's thoughts or intent.

Take time to write
Don't be a victim of the texting mindset.  Facebook offers you a place to form complete thoughts that aren't limited by characters or time.  Even if you're a lousy speller, use punctuation and capitalization correctly to avoid misinterpretations.

Spam happens
No one likes spam in their inbox, so why would you want it in your facebook feed?  By writing, "Touchdown!" you're assuming one, we're watching the same football game, and, two, that we even care about football.  It's okay to say what you feel on facebook; just make sure the rest of us know what it is you're talking about.

Your wall vs your friend's wall

How would you like it if I showed up to your house for dinner, and, while you were cooking, told you how stupid it was to be cooking the way you were?  It's one thing to voice an opinion on your own wall (and expect that others will disagree), but it's quite another to berate people on their own wall. 

Don't take it personally
Unfriending on facebook is not the end of the world just as friending on facebook doesn't create (or re-create long lost) friendships. I have developed many wonderful, meaningful online relationships with people I've never met. Conversely, I've connected online with people I've met in person and ultimately unfriended them.  

You can't possibly predict how others will react to what you say on facebook. But, if you are transparent and true to yourself in your thoughts and actions, you'll soon learn who your real friends are. 

What interpersonal communication skills have you learned from facebook?