“If it’s on the Internet, it must be true.”

Earlier this week, I witnessed a digital public lynching. A nasty Facebook post – including information that was misunderstood and/or taken way out of context – started an avalanche of hatred, false allegations, threats, profanity, and abuse unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my 20+ years as a communicator. Want to know the saddest and most surprising element of this situation? Most of the virtual rocks were hurled by parents of young children.

There are lessons to be learned from this event, both for communicators and social media users. Let’s start with the communicators – those who send the messages.

  • Draft a message in its simplest terms without sacrificing accuracy.
  • If in doubt about how the message might be perceived, test it on someone you trust, and ask their reaction. Modify as necessary. After all, the point of communication is to relay a message so the recipient hears it as it was intended.
  • If the message may generate an extreme emotion, tread lightly. How would you want to receive the message?

Now, I’d like to share lessons for social media users – those who receive messages.

  • Do not follow the guideline of “if it’s on the Internet, it must be true.” The Internet is simply a method of publishing a message. It’s the newer version of pen and paper.
  • Do not claim to understand an issue simply because you read someone’s rant or scanned a headline. How do you know they are reacting to or sharing accurate information?
  • Be proactive and practice media literacy. Go to the source of whatever started the rant. Learn more about it yourself, process the information using critical thinking and choose your position. Then you have the right to comment on it.
  • If you must comment, keep the conversation professional and factual. Avoid personal attacks, inappropriate language, threats and so on. Behave.
  • Don’t assume you know the intent of the message’s sender.
  • Realize many people don’t communicate in person with the harshness they are so quick to employ at the keyboard.

As social media continues to become ever-present in our lives, choose to use it well. Whether you’re sending or receiving messages, show respect to others and share intelligently. Just because a rock is there doesn’t mean you have to throw it.

Photo credit: Pexels.com


Tricia Richards Thumbnail-Head ShotTricia Richards-Service is an adjunct faculty member of the Communication Arts Department at Marywood University and a doctoral candidate in health promotion. A 2017-2018 Fulbright-Schuman student research grantee, she is now in Europe, where she is conducting research on breast cancer in Ireland and Romania.

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