Communicating with someone via social networking sites is very different from speaking to someone face to face. When conversing with someone online, we are indeed interacting with that person on an interpersonal level, but we are connected to him or her only by the screen in front of us. As much as we are connected, we are equally separated because we are shielded by the vast world of cyberspace. The shielding afforded by online interactions yields an odd twist to interpersonal communication; individuals often feel more at liberty to speak their minds online, sometimes in ways that are harmful or just plain rude. Communication online seems to generate the attitude that we can say whatever comes to mind without consequence. There is a lack of the immediate repercussions a person might feel after a rude comment or an angry outburst in a face to face interaction.
This stems into a further problem that I continue to see all over the Internet: individuals conducting themselves in a highly distasteful manner as they interact in an impolite fashion not just with strangers online, but with acquaintances and friends as well. What threw this issue into the light for me was witnessing an argument on a close friend's Facebook account that was displayed for anyone to read.
Over the past weekend, there was some drama within my friend group: my friend, Jordan, had a horrible break-up with her boyfriend of three years after he left her for another girl. Their mutual close friend, Bobby, was very angry with the boyfriend for doing this to Jordan, and he decided to take Jordan’s “side” of the break-up, even though he was very close with the boyfriend’s family.
Let me interject to say that there was nothing catastrophic or abnormal about this situation; it was simply petty drama within a friend group. However, in the comment section under Jordan’s changed “relationship status” on Facebook, the ex-boyfriend’s mother began writing rude and suggestive comments about the situation. Insulted, Bobby wrote a retort to her comment, and the two of them began throwing hateful comments at each other via this comment forum. The argument exploded into paragraph upon paragraph of insults, retorts, and screaming angry words (shown by all-capital letters) at each other. The entire argument was directly sent to the “News Feed” (a forum that displays all of the interactions between friends on Facebook) so that all four hundred mutual friends of the people involved could read and comment on the fight.
What was so astonishing wasn’t that there was an argument taking place, or even that they were fighting about a rather private, personal matter; it was the absolute harshness and lack of thought in the words written, especially on the part of an adult poking around in a situation that was pointless, juvenile drama. Quite frankly, it made her look like a fool. The content of what she said on the forum was so boorish in nature that it was hard to believe that this was the respectable, polite mother we all knew well in real life. To top it off, she began deleting certain comments she had written to make Bobby look like he was saying angry things for no reason. The whole argument made her look extremely ridiculous, yet there is no way for any of us to tell her so without further fueling the fire.
Taking this example and countless others I have seen online into account, I would like to implore people to be careful with their words, especially on public forums. It is not a free-for-all place to lower your standards and resort to uncivilized verbal sparring. If you truly have a problem with somebody, talk to the person face to face, and do not hide behind the shield of cyberspace.