The Responsibility of Social Media

The advent of social media has ushered in an entirely new dimension in how people interact. Dimensionally the world has not contracted it still takes us 22 hours to fly halfway around the world to witness a baseball game but I cannot help but feel like it has gotten tremendously smaller.

At the turn of the 19th century it would take days, weeks, or even months for news to travel from one place to another. People would go on with their lives content in not knowing what was happening in other parts of the world and only being interested when word finally reached them in their remote area of existence.

Social MediaTechnology progressed and soon news and information travelled across telegraph wires bringing the nation closer together by giving people access to information on a timelier manner. People did not have individual telegraph wires to their houses so they relied on aggregators to collect the information and make it available. This was the age of newspapers. For some these papers arrived weekly for others it may be once a month but that was still better than not getting the information at all or second hand through word of mouth.

When people began to receive the news via a paper an interesting thing began to occur. Readers suddenly felt empowered to respond to the news they were reading. The opinion and letters to the editor columns were born allowing readers to voice their viewpoints on the news. This came with a responsibility, the person writing to the newspaper must give their name and address before their comments would be published. Newspapers realized that it was important for readers to have a voice but it was even more important that the voice be attached to an identifiable person not an anonymous figure.

Technology progressed and soon radios and radio transmission encircled the country allowing news to travel even further and its influence be felt in even more homes. This allowed more timely dissemination of news and helped those in more remote areas to feel part of the overall country. In a sense it made the country feel more cohesive. Like the newspaper, radio allowed listeners to call into the station and voice their opinions. Radio stations likewise required the listeners to identify themselves before putting them on the air and reserved the right to terminate the call at any moment if the message went in a direction no one wanted to hear.

When television came onto the scene it not only united the country but brought news of faraway places closer to home. We were no longer receiving news about just our local community or state or even our nation. We were now able to see and hear what was going on across the world. The media outlets wielded great power but also provided a means where viewers could obtain time to let their opinions be known. Of course the television stations reserved the right to “pull the plug” on a program or story if it became derogatory or inflammatory.

Now we live in the time of the Internet when news is reported the moment it happens. The dissemination of information is instantaneous and organic. It is no longer the domain of the news agencies, each of us have the opportunity to report the news and add our opinion to what is happening.

This is a very empowering time we live in where each of our voices can be heard not just by those within earshot but across the world. While it encourages each of us to let our feelings be known we must understand what those who came before us learned, speaking our minds comes with a certain amount of responsibility.

Social media allows each of us to connect with others who have similar viewpoints or share a common subject. It gives us an opportunity to connect with people we may never otherwise meet. That is an exciting and encouraging thing.

Social media also has a dark side. The Internet allows us to be faceless and anonymous. For some this cloak of secrecy allows them to say things that they may not otherwise say if the conversation was held between two people in the physical world.

Let me give you an example. On Twitter you are allowed to create an account using any name you choose. You can be transparent using your real name and likeness or you can choose a pseudonym. Once this account is made you are free to communicate with anyone. It is up to you to choose whether you want your identity known.

During the first two games of the MLB regular season between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers fans from both sides were heavily engaged on Twitter cheering for their favorite teams and disparaging those fans from the opposing team. On the surface this seems fun and encourages everyone to show their passion for the game they love.

Unfortunately some will always take things too far and using the anonymity of the Internet will say things that could offend or embarrass others. It becomes even more of an issue when fans for a team turn on the players when things do not go their way.

When the Diamondbacks began to struggle in the second game users immediately began questioning individual players abilities and spewed out vile comments or suggestions. Each time something did not go the way these fans wanted the message became worse.

As the exchanges became more personal lines were drawn and the situation became more polarizing. Soon fans questioned other fans loyalty and suggested they were not “real fans” if anything negative was said. This is not an issue that is unique to the Diamondbacks or to baseball or even to Twitter. It just seems like it is happening far to often in our society.

Everyday we hear about how political parties or countries cannot get along and how there is contention wherever we turn. I think we each need to take a look in the mirror and assess whether the world is becoming more negative or are we only focusing on that side of the equation without really looking for the answer.

It’s easy to say that you should never say anything on Twitter that you would not say to that person in real life. I learned that lesson though my Heath Bell experience last season. In that case though it was not that I said anything I wouldn’t have said in the stands or to others including Heath Bell himself but rather it was how I presented the information and my lack of forethought on how that information would be perceived.

I’d love to say I learned my lesson and I no longer say or write stupid things but that is not the case and never will be. After apologizing to Heath Bell last year he suggested I stop saying dumb stuff but then quickly followed that up with the conclusion that was never going to happen.

Now I at least understand the ramifications of what I am typing and I am quick to admit when people start to flame me. I have come to that conscious conclusion that no matter what you say someone will not like it. But I don’t think it is right to stand behind the anonymity of the Internet to disparage others.

If you feel strongly enough to complain or chastise someone you should also feel empowered enough to see the other side of the coin and find the positives in another person instead of just the negative. There are two sides to everything we say and do it is just up to use to try and see both of them and be tolerant and compassionate to know the difference.

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