Is Social Media the New ‘Road Rage’?

Is social media the new road rage? Do you ever feel a bit insulted by what your friends post?

I am often a bit shocked by being called rude names by my friends on social media and I wonder if it is a little like ‘road rage’.

Now, I will admit, I often talk to other drivers when I am driving. I shout things like, “Hurry up, this is a 50 zone,” or “Get off my tail, idiot, you’ll hit me if a deer runs out.” However, I would not dream of saying those things if the other driver could hear me. Well, maybe the last one I might, but I would make it slightly more polite.

However, on social media, people often share links that are even more insulting. I read phrases like, “the morons who continue this game” (yes, that’s me) or “the selfish idiots who voted for that party” (oh, sorry, I made the best choice I could given the information at hand) or “the self-absorbed murderers who support killing animals” (hmmm, I might fit into that category too given the topic it was discussing.)

The difference to social media though, is that the people who are being insulted (me) can actually hear. And when I read some of these insults, I do actually find it a little upsetting. The rational part of me knows that the person ‘sharing’ these posts would never dream of saying these things to my face. They are for the most part polite, caring people. Some of them are, I believe, even fond of me. However, when I read these posts, I am still a little shocked. It can feel like a smack in the face, especially if I have logged on for a quick look before breakfast, a bit of mindless entertainment before my brain is in gear.

Now, I know that people will disagree on things. We do not all share the same politics or religious view and social media is a good way to express our thoughts, to perhaps have a rant about something we are passionate about. But I wish people would keep the reader in mind. We write because we expect, we hope, someone out there will read what we write. I do not think we usually intend to bash them over the head with a stick. There are nice ways of saying things. We can be fervent about our views without necessarily calling the other people idiots, without punching the nose of anyone who disagrees with us.

I do understand that when making an emotive argument, one technique is to exaggerate. I do realise that the people who write these things are making a case rather than actually expressing hate for the people who oppose them. However, I think sometimes this has been taken to extremes and is over used. Perhaps we have lost a little caution with what we post.

The trouble with social media is that it is so easy. You can read something, have an emotional reaction and fire off a quick reply in seconds. I have done it myself. I once wrote a reply to something as an emotional response, reread it and realised it sounded terribly rude, then spent an awful few minutes trying to work out how to delete it. I was lucky, the recipient never read it. I also get things wrong sometimes. I tend to let my family read things before I publish them (they seem to enjoy letting me know when I have got something wrong.) Sometimes they tell me to not publish something, they tell me it sounds racist or insulting or whatever, even though they know that that was not my intention. It is hard to self-moderate.

Of course, people in the media receive the most awful comments all the time. Is this okay? Should journalists write things for public viewing that they would never say to the person’s face? I don’t think so. Take Jeremy Corbyn (the one who looks like everyone’s favourite uncle.) Now, I disagree with almost everything I have read about his politics. But do I also want to criticise his dress sense? Do I care how he chooses to wear his hair? To me, that just seems bitchy and unnecessary. It also undermines the arguments of the author, reminds me of name-calling from the primary school playground.

As social media grows, as it replaces the village green where people meet for a chat, I think we need to be increasingly careful. We humans are fragile beings. What we read is what we hear and no one likes to be told they are an idiot. Even if they are.

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