Recently, a story called How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco's Life was avidly shared on Twitter. The story was a cautionary tale showing us how some of us can run away with the freedom provided by social media platforms.
While, social media can lead to revolutions and facilitate community outreach programmes, it can also cause people to go into depression, feel hounded and passed judgment upon, lose their jobs (as in the case of Justine Sacco) and lose their lives as well. Scary, isn't it?
As someone who has been blogging for close to seven years now and has been an active participant on Facebook, and less so on Twitter, I am beginning to recognise some of the pitfalls of social media myself. While I have found people and groups that I can really connect with, those who are kind and generous, sometimes it is these very people who can jolt me with their pettiness or lack of compassion. I wonder what brings out this inner narcissist in us that will do just about anything for a few likes, comments and shares.
Whether it is family or friends, parents or singles, heads of state or celebrities, no one is safe from the ire of the social media aficionados. Haranguing, name calling, harassing and humiliating all goes under the guise of freedom of speech. While our blogs give us the power to lay out one-sided versions of our stories to the world, we often forget that the targets of our criticism are living, breathing human beings just like us. They have families and friends too. Do their misdemeanours (perceived) really demand the punishment of our merciless hounding? Is it time for all of us to pause for a second and be a little more courteous and compassionate in our interactions?
Personally, I find family a sobering influence. The fact that my son reads my blogs or that my husband is on Facebook always makes me think twice before posting or sharing something.
While the urge to hit out at every issue is strong and God knows we all have done it, I think the willpower to take that step back is even more important. Every time when I want to strike out, I recall that for every person that gets on my nerves, there are many others who have jumped to my defence or offered me a shoulder to cry upon no matter how small my misery.
Today, I find myself standing at the crossroads wondering if I really need to be that connected, that bombarded by a community that rarely displays compassion for other fellow beings. Emails, tweets, status updates, blogs are all filled with anger, rants and venting out. Some of them use offensive language and really are out there to provoke.
Social media has given all of us a voice, a method by which we can also make a difference. The compassion that we need to embrace is to not misuse that power. Use your reach, your followers for sharing tales of distress, of hope, of happiness instead of having your two seconds of fame by slinging mud or laughing at someone else's expense.
On 20 February, 2015, #1000Voices around the world are speaking out to practice compassion in every sphere of life.
Every time you write something really harsh or vitriolic, think for once if you would be able to say the same thing to the person to their face.
If not, why put it up in black and white. Remember, the written word cannot be erased and neither can be erased the wounds that harsh words leave behind in the hearts of those who are targeted.
Let us all try to practice compassion towards ourselves and towards our fellow human beings. Let us use social media wisely and responsibly.
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