What Really Scares Me About Social Media

Last week , the below picture went viral all over the media, and I say media because it went beyond Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It was also on major network news and discussed on the radio.

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I am the first to admit that I rolled my eyes at this story. Here it is, yet again, a bunch of young girls more obsessed with taking a selfie than interacting with the real world. But then something stopped me dead in my tracks.

The picture seemed familiar. I stared at this photo a bit longer.The girls were in a group sitting together. I imagined they were all part of the same club or team. They looked young, maybe in their mid-teens.

It dawned on me then. I remembered snapping a photo of my daughter and her friends — just a few years younger than this group — at a women’s soccer game last year. I can picture their duck faces and the tiny hands making peace signs with the game happening right behind them.  We took it twice to get the look just right.

I imagined that picture showing up on millions of strangers’ news feeds, shaming them for being more interested in creating the perfect kissy face than watching the U.S. women’s soccer team. It was only a moment, but no one else knew that.

This group easily could have been my daughter and her friends. I wanted to vomit.

Yesterday, I came across this story clarifying the photo. It alleges that the girls were participating in a contest  broadcasted to the entire stadium to tweet selfies.

Participating. In a contest. Having fun. In that moment of a three hour game.

When Fox Sports and the Diamondbacks offered tickets to another game, the girls declined and requested the tickets be donated to an organization that supports families of domestic abuse. This bold move is in stark contrast to the shaming these girls received from the Interweb.

So. well. played.

I like to think that as adults we learned from this experience. I see people sharing the second article all over social media saying we shouldn’t judge or that there are two sides to every story.

But that isn’t what freaks me out the most.

What scares the bejeezus out of me is that someone else took this picture of them. Someone else decided to use this photo and tell their story. Someone else took control of their experience and plastered it all over the Internet.

And no one else seems to be bothered by this.

I passionately talk to my kids about social media. I show them how a text can be forwarded to a group with a single touch of a button, or a message misconstrued. I lecture them about how nothing is “private” and how people are not always who they say they are. I am waiting until I feel the time is right to let them have their own phone, Instagram or Facebook.

But there is one thing I cannot protect them from on social media, one thing even I can’t control.

You.

I can’t protect them from you and your ability to change their lives in an instant with your iPhone. Your taking pictures, your telling their stories, your providing the context.

And it scares the bejeezus out of me.

My daughters and I could never post a picture on social media again, and they could still end up the laughing stock of the World Wide Web without doing a single thing wrong. Just by being themselves. Having fun at an event where they didn’t even know someone was snapping their picture and deciding to hit “share.”

Because you sat behind them in the bleachers and saw their g-string sticking out. Because you thought their blue hair and nose ring were “funny.” Because you thought the way they danced during the seventh inning stretch was just like Elayne from Seinfeld.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, every embarrassing picture, every “funny” meme, every silly You Tube video we post and share on social media is somebody’s daughter or somebody’s son. It could be MY daughter. It could be YOUR son.

And we have more control than you believe. Simply by not hitting the share button, you are doing your part. Pausing, and imagining that it is your child in that shaming-selfie photo, your sister with her butt-crack hanging out in Wal Mart, your dad with the hair coming out of his ears and nose. Not posting or sharing that content  is doing your part.

Because if we don’t teach our kids better, they will never do better.

It’s hard enough raising kids who respect social media. We shouldn’t punish the ones who are just trying to live their lives.

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THINK_social_media_POSTER

I remember seeing this poster in one of my daughters’ classrooms, except it was regarding thinking before speaking. Simon Clegg turned it into a thinking before posting poster, and I think it is pretty brilliant.

 

 

3 Ways We Bully on Facebook — And Don’t Even Know It

Everyone is somebody’s daughter; everyone is somebody’s son.

My six-year Facebookaversary is coming up soon. Yep, I’ve been wasting time in the black hole of the Internet for nearly 2,000 days and loving every second of it.

But it hasn’t all been sunshine and unicorns. There are many times when I take a quick peek at Facebook while waiting in pick up line, and I read a status update or comment on a post that leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Or worse, makes me feel a little dirty for reading information that I probably shouldn’t know.

But we’re adults, right? No harm, no foul.

I recently read an article about a bill that passed in New Jersey that would require all middle schoolers to take a class on how to use social media responsibly. The bill (A3292), which passed 37-2, would require school districts to instruct sixth through eighth graders on “cyber safety, cyber security, and cyber ethics” on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

I say hallelujah! And can you make parents take it too?

Social media can be fun. It gives us a way to connect on-the-fly. It offers us an opportunity to share photos, gather information, and keep tabs on “important life events.”

It also gives us a platform to do things we normally wouldn’t do or say in real life, things that would mortify us if our children did them.

Cyber bullying is when a person or a group of people uses the internet, email, online games or any other kind of digital technology to threaten, tease, upset or humiliate someone else. It’s the last one that gets most of us. Humiliate. We do it without even thinking, sometimes without even knowing we’re doing it.

Don’t think I’m judging you, because I’m writing this because I have done it. I’ve laughed and ridiculed and snickered at a photo without thinking about it. Because who is getting hurt, right? I’m doing it in the privacy of my own iPhone. I won’t hit “like” or “share”. Well, maybe I’ll show it to my husband later, but that’s not the same. Or I’ll pull it up and show it to my friend at soccer practice. And I can’t help it if she shares it, right?

What we say and do on Facebook (and every other social media platform) matters, especially as parents. Facebook isn’t always just an opportunity to connect with friends; instead it’s an extension of our personal life. A megaphone to our outside world. And more people than our friend’s list are listening.

Here are three things that may make you a Facebook bully without even knowing it:

1. Posting embarrassing photos of people you do not know. In today’s iEverything age, a person can snap a photo in a millisecond without the target even knowing. It’s a picture of an overweight woman’s butt crack sitting on the bleacher in front of you; it’s a photo of a woman in a too revealing dress; it’s a snapshot of an executive who fell asleep on the subway with drool coming out of his mouth; it’s a video of a man who has had too much to drink. We’ve all seen these images and laughed and thought nothing of it.

But here’s the thing, and there is no way getting around it. Those pictures live forever and regardless of your privacy settings they can be shared and spread like wildfire. And they are humiliating to the — wait for it — victim. Because that’s what a person is who unwillingly gets subjected to ridicule on your feed.

Imagine for just a second it was you in those photos. If that doesn’t get you, how about if it was your son or daughter?

2. Public Outings/Shaming. To better promote my blog, I have joined a ton of “private” groups on Facebook. It is great networking, and I have learned a lot from other more experienced writers. It’s been a very positive experience. Until the time I saw a sweet mommy blogger publicly call out another woman for being deceitful and shady. But don’t worry. The post was only shown to the private group – of approximately 2,000 peers.

It was an incredibly uncomfortable situation for everyone witnessing it. My inbox pinged with messages saying, “Can you believe she just did that?” and “Wow, I’m so embarrassed for them both!”

The “victim” in this situation, a woman who felt wronged, felt she performing a goodwill gesture — her civic duty per se — by informing us all of this private dispute. While a few people engaged, I gathered it was as uncomfortable for the rest of the group as it was for me. It was like driving by a fender bender. There was nothing to see, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

Social media is feeding our narcissism, fueling our ego and compelling us to “act” like public crusaders, even when there is no need. Exposing private information with the intent to instigate others is a blatant form of harassment. Some would argue that it is no different than sharing your bad shopping experience with friends, except what you put on the Internet never goes away. A public “outing” on Facebook can be far more permanent than even a scarlet letter, which at least could be covered.

Now, this woman’s story may have been completely accurate. Maybe she was cheated by this blogger, and maybe she had every right to be upset; but the other woman also has rights, and the other woman also has children, relatives and friends that are on Facebook, many of whom came to her defense. I was relieved when the admin took the post down and put the perpetrators in Facebook time out, but the damage was already done.

It is easy to tell ourselves that we are doing something in the name of the greater good, but publicly outing someone — and then trying to shame them — is not the example we should set for our kids.

To put it in a parenting context, suppose your toddler had bad judgment at day care one day. He bit a girl when she stole his favorite Lego. Then imagine a parent posting a photo of the bite mark with your son’s mug shot side by side with the status update: “This kid is a biter. You have been warned.”

Most of us would be outraged. Let that sink in for a second.

When we expose other people’s mistakes — and even their blatant wrongdoings — on Facebook, we make ourselves feel better, but that shouldn’t be confused with making a difference. And don’t be surprised when someone else — someone with a wider net — strikes back. It is a never-ending circle of negativity.

3. Posting about people who annoy you. This is the one I am the most guilty of doing. “Dear guy who was tooting on the treadmill next to me” or “To the mom not watching her kids at Chik-Fil-A” are some of my best updates that get the greatest amount of likes.

But then one day my youngest daughter happened to see my open Facebook page when I jumped up to get my cell phone. I had just posted a witty status update about the way the oil change guy spoke to me in a condescending way, when she looked up at me with those big blue eyes and said, “Mom, I thought he was nice. He gave me a lollipop.”

Ouch.

I realized in that moment that I was the one being catty and judgmental and a coward. And condescending. I would NEVER acknowledge these issues in public, so why would I say them on Facebook. To get a laugh? To get a thumbs up?

Rule of “thumb”: if you would be embarrassed if the person you posted about actually read your post, then you probably shouldn’t write it. And that goes double if you would be mortified if your kid read it.

Some studies have shown that Facebook can actually be good for you, producing a natural high that leads to relaxed heart rates and lower levels of stress and tension. When used for good and not evil, it can even boost self-esteem. The findings support the researchers’ hypothesis that Facebook’s success, as well as that of other social media networks, correlates to the specific positive mental and physical state users experience.

So think before you post. Keep it positive and keep it personal — and nobody gets hurt.

 

When Your Friend Talks to You from the Grave on Facebook, You Listen

The other night I was up late trying to finish a few blog posts and felt pretty defeated. I was disappointed with my drafts and basically just uninspired.

I then tried to work on the young adult novel I wanted to pen, and instead I sat staring at a computer screen with 32 words on it. And they sucked. Every one of them.

As I often do, I contemplated why I gave up a career that paid me quite well and worked around my schedule. Sure, I didn’t really enjoy it, but the money was good and the focus on my insecurities was a lot less. I thought about the emails I received from my old clients encouraging me to come back, the offer from my former boss saying there was always a job for me.

My demons were talking, and they were sounding smarter by the minute.

I decided to throw in the towel for the night and checked my Playdates on Fridays Facebook page one more time before I went to bed.

That’s when I saw it on the left hand side of my screen.

“Invite your friend Ali to like Playdates on Fridays.”

Whoa.

My friend Ali died of non-smoking related lung cancer two years ago, and I swear she just spoke to me from the grave.

Ali and I were born just a few months apart and shared a lot of pizza together in college. We reconnected on Facebook years back and re-formed our friendship. Although she had not yet started her own family, she was always sending me notes about my girls and how blessed I was. I told her how envious I was about the concerts she attended and the life she had built for herself. We got together a few times in DC but we were pervasively connected through social media.

Ali was a huge supporter of my writing. “You should totally start a blog,” she once told me. “You would be great at it.”

And I responded with a standard self-deprecating remark like: “Sure, you and my mom could start my fan club!”

Then she got lung cancer. And it changed my life.

Although Ali’s only blood relative lived thousands of miles away, her friends stepped up to the plate — in a huge way. I have never been so inspired — these people with jobs and families and responsibilities were there for this beautiful woman up until the moment she passed. They put their lives on hold so she could enjoy what remained of hers.

For those of us who couldn’t be there physically for Ali, we tried to do what we could. We raised funds both for her care and for Free to Breathe, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and research for lung cancer. During this time I wrote an article for our national sorority magazine, The Key, that talked about how Ali’s illness had brought us all together again. After reviewing the piece, Ali sent me a note:

You really have such a gift for writing and expressing feelings and things in such a touching and inspiring way.  Thank you for taking such care with the story.  

Ali gave me such a gift. The piece was my first published under my own byline, but her opinion meant even more. She is a major reason why I started my blog and began writing a book. Ali was robbed of her opportunity to chase her dreams; what an insult to her if I quit chasing mine.

But I had forgotten this. I let my daily life get in the way of what I love. Again.

Until Ali popped up telling me that she wanted to like my page. Because she wouldn’t have just liked it. She would have shared it and sent me messages and told me that I should keep going.

I know what you are thinking. It would be easy to write this off as some coincidence, some well-funded Zuckerithm developed to make me even more attached to Facebook.

But it’s not.

Right before she got really sick, I sent Ali a card with some funny cats on it. She was a true animal lover, and I knew she’d get a kick out of it. She sent me a note that said this:

Thanks for always having such encouraging and beautiful words to say…..whether to me or in general.

Ali’s Facebook page has remained active even after her death. It connects all the people who came together from so many different facets of her life. I believe — with all my heart — that Ali knew I needed to hear from her, that I needed someone to encourage me, to “like” me.

So I could do that for someone else — through my writing.

Because when your friend talks to you from the grave on Facebook, you listen.

Do You Need to “Look Up”

Just got back from a Girls Weekend that was amaze-balls (more blogging about that later), but wanted to share this video named “Look Up”. It is an extremely poignant take on the effect social media is having on our lives and what we miss when we have our heads down in our phones and iPads.

I have mixed emotions about this. I have a mild social media addiction, but I have also lived in 14 different cities and have friends and family scattered throughout the globe. I love seeing pictures of my friends’ children, vacations and yes, even the great meals they are eating at fancy restaurants. I crack up at Memes (by the way, did you know it was pronounced meam like cream?), my friends’ hilarious Facebook posts about what their kids did last night and some fantastic Instagram shots. I even use it to gather information about topics such as parenting, traveling, food, etc. The big joke for me is everything I’ve ever learned about anything has been from Facebook.

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Social media brings me joy with people who I normally wouldn’t have time to engage with on a regular basis. But I’m a pretty social person, so I do not think I have ever let it get in the way of forming real friendships (or maintaining those relationships that are most important to me.) Or I like to think so.

I have noticed lately that some of my friends get angry when on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. Angry at “VagueBooking” (when people seek attention about something going on in their life without letting you know what’s going on), recipe posting, or airing out your dirty laundry. Mad at how people portray their perfect lives or post too much about mundane things. Frustrated with the negativity, political rants or even the football rivalries.

I wonder about the voyeurism we are obsessed with and why we find it difficult to disengage on social media. I am fascinated by the fact that it is so difficult to disconnect. And I am concerned with the effect it sometimes has on relationships.

I think social media is here to stay, but I am interested to see how people use it and the emotions it brings out in them. I will be addressing this in some of my blogs in the future, but for now, take a look at “Look Up.”

I would love to know what you think.

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