When Social Media isn’t Social

When I first entered the courtroom I had no idea of the events that were about to unfold. I didn’t know I’d be there for around six weeks, listening to dozens of people being questioned by prosecution and defence lawyers.

It was many years ago and I’d been chosen to serve on the jury of a criminal case. The case was estimated to run for a couple of weeks but one and a half months later we finally ‘retired to consider a verdict’.

It was only after all the twists and turns of the evidence, direction from the judge, copious legal arguments and much more along the way that we were ready to consider all that we’d seen and heard and then deliver a verdict on each of the charges.

It still took the twelve of us many hours to finally agree. That process involved reviewing the case, including expert evidence, and discussing various points together to ensure justice for everyone involved in the case.

What fascinated me at the time was the media reporting.

I had no doubt that people would have been making up their own minds on the case based on the occasional 90 second television reports and the two or three hundred word reports in the paper.

We had heard countless hours of in depth evidence, they had seen a 90 second report. How could they make a solid decision on such a small amount of evidence? Quite obviously they couldn’t.

Judge, Jury and Executioner

Unfortunately, when it comes to social media we seem to have thrown out all need to understand an issue before we decide where we stand. We base our position on existing prejudices and decide that anyone holding any other view is an idiot who deserves our contempt and hate.

We don’t take the time to research a topic, weigh up the evidence and then have a reasoned conversation. Instead, we see people jumping in with inflammatory statements devoid of any attempt to hear another perspective or to show respect.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against developing a conversation and seeking the facts to understand more about what happened but that’s a million miles away from taking on the job of judge, jury and executioner based on media reports.

Whether it’s a major news story or simply a fun YouTube video, our unlimited access to various forms of social media has given us unprecedented opportunity to share our opinions and the fact that most of those opinions aren’t supported by the facts doesn’t seem to trouble anyone.

Whenever someone publishes anything online you can almost guarantee a barrage of comments that range between sycophantic worship and death threats. Where’s the middle ground? Where’s the reasoned discussion?

We’ve lost the ability to display compassion and empathy.

Many seem to forget that those involved in the stories they pronounce their opinions on are real people who are very likely to read those comments and suffer from the words of those who don’t know or care to understand the wider story.

When we cross the line, when we mess up and get it wrong, we hope that others will take into account what brought us to that point, not to excuse our behaviour but to understand it, and then that they’ll offer forgiveness.

Why are we so unprepared to offer that to others?

Why are we so quick to pass judgement on those we don’t even know? Why do we feel such a strong desire to vilify others publicly without knowing their story?

Sadly, as well as causing untold damage to those who are targeted, those making comments can end up looking foolish and uninformed. It would be better for many to simply remain silent.

Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent. – Proverbs 17:28

Social media has given us an incredible platform to share our stories and our humanness but we shouldn’t take it lightly and we shouldn’t simply use it as an opportunity to bring others down.

None of us ever know what lies around the corner for us but whatever it is, I hope that there’ll still be people ready to offer words that heal rather than words that tear down.

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Stop Using Facebook as a Weapon

Do you remember the three essential rules of keeping a mogwai from the eighties movie Gremlins?

1. Do not expose the mogwai to bright lights or sunlight
2. Do not let it get wet
3. Never feed it after midnight

If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know that young Billy didn’t quite stick to the rules and so all sorts of nasty things happened. More and more ‘gremlins’ spawned and set about causing havoc. Some people were killed, many others injured and it took a massive effort from Billy and his friends to bring order back to the town of Kingston Falls.

Do you remember the golden rule from the early days of the internet (which is just as relevant today)?

Don’t feed the trolls

Unfortunately the trolls have been eating very well and have continued to spawn and cause havoc. Where are Billy and his friends when you need them?

In Internet slang, a troll (/?tro?l/, /?tr?l/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll’s amusement. – Wiki

Unfortunately a lot of people seem to be infected with a little bit of ‘troll’.

I see it on social media platforms like Facebook every day. People say things in the public space of the internet that they wouldn’t dare say to someone’s face.

Why is it that we mostly follow mum’s advice to ‘mind your manners’ when we’re with other people yet completely lose all sense of respect for others when we’re online? Why do we feel that we can take the role of judge, jury and executioner when we’re in front of a keyboard or phone screen? How do we think it’s alright to be so Jekyll and Hyde?

We’ve got to stop using Facebook as a weapon.

Before you post a reply to something you’ve seen online, stop and recognise that real people are involved. Real people will read what you write and may suffer real hurt.

It’s OK to disagree with someone. I’m not advocating that we all be saccharin sweet when we have a different point of view but we don’t need an AK-47 to kill a fly. Where’s the nuance in our conversations? Instead of acting like everyone involved in an online conversation is just a fictitious character, only existing in cyberspace, imagine you’re sitting opposite that person at a cafe and think of how you could help them see your point of view. Consider how you can thoughtfully add to a discussion rather than throwing in a grenade and running.

…. and speaking of cafes ….

Another way many people use Facebook and other social media as a weapon is to mercilessly berate businesses such as cafes. Sometimes it may be appropriate to call out bad service but too many times I see people telling the world about their bad experiences before taking matters up with the business involved. I’ve used email and private messaging to voice disappointment a number of times. I’ve had great results by respectfully and privately taking my gripe to someone who can do something about it.

On the other hand, how many of those who use social media to bludgeon businesses who don’t get it right every time actually drop a compliment or two on the public pages of businesses that exceed their expectations? When was the last time you publicly thanked a business online for being good at what they do?

There’s a better way.

I think we can do disagreement better. I think we can disagree without destroying relationship. We can honour others who hold a different point of view. The internet isn’t a competition to be won by vitriol.

We all get to be agents of change in turning the tide against the nastiness. Let’s all resolve to let grace and kindness flood our use of social media. Let’s decide to look out for opportunities to leave compliments on the Facebook pages of businesses that are doing a great job and to handle our complaints privately.

We’re all ‘grown ups’. Let’s start acting that way and stop using Facebook as a weapon.

(And whether you agree or disagree with what I’ve written, let’s have a robust yet respectful discussion about it in the comments section of this post.)

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Unfriendly Workplace Bullying


A ruling from the Fair Work Commission means that you might need to be a little more careful next time you decide to purge your Facebook friend list. While you might think that deciding who you ‘friend’ or ‘unfriend’ on social media is a matter of your personal choice, but it could have much wider consequences.

Employers around the country will be scrambling to update their social media policies after a decision by the workplace tribunal found unfriending someone on Facebook can constitute workplace bullying.

Rachael Roberts, an employee of real estate agency VIEW Launceston, went to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) in February this year alleging she was being bullied by sales administrator Lisa Bird and her husband James, the business owner. – News.com.au

Of course there’s more to the story than just unfriending someone on Facebook but the act of removing someone from a list of Facebook friends was significant in the commission’s findings.

When I first started using Facebook I would accept most friend requests. I later decided that I needed to maintain a little more privacy and so I created a new public Facebook page to give me the opportunity to interact with many more people while keeping my personal page a little more … personal. (Feel free to connect with me on my public page.)

What’s your policy regarding who you ‘friend’ or ‘unfriend’ on Facebook? I’m sometimes tempted to remove friends who post offensive and ill-informed statements and articles about other people groups, faith, politics and other issues but I generally resist because I know that I don’t have to agree with everything someone believes to be a friend. I also realise that I need to hear what others are thinking, even when I can sometimes feel the anger beginning to rise.

Are you ‘friends’ with your work colleagues? If you friend one or two colleagues do you feel you should friend them all? I’d be really interested in your thoughts.

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Cavalia Shines in the West


There’s something inspiring about watching people who are passionate about what they’re doing. Watching Cavalia is all kinds of inspiring. The two and four legged performers fill the stage with joyous celebration and they are masters of drawing the audience into their magical world.

The show has visited 60 cities in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Europe and Australia. Around 4 million people have been thrilled by the performance around the world. It’s an innovative multi-media production created by Normand Latourelle, one of the co-founders of Circe du Soleil.

If you want to see Cavalia in Perth there are shows until the 26th of January under the big white top at Belmont Racecourse.

I had the honour of being invited to a VIP Social Media Night last night. I took my son James and together we got the full VIP treatment with a delicious meal and drinks before the show and a guided stable tour after the show.

While the pre-show and post-show were wonderful, it was the performance itself we were there to see and it didn’t disappoint.

Before the curtain went up we had a quick chat to Ms Mystery Case and her husband who were seated next to us. If you want to see some better photos of the night than I was able to capture on my iPhone 4 you can read her review of the night.

James and I settled in among the other social media invitees, ready to take some snaps to post to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. From start to finish there was plenty to photograph. Whether it was the mind bending acrobatics performed by some of the 36 human performers or the graceful beauty of the 43 magnificent horses, there was always something mesmerising happening on stage.

The connection between human and horse was a highlight. From incredibly subtle and gentle moves to thundering past us at speed, the horses were captivating.

The live music added another thrilling dimension to the show. Sometimes quietly setting the scene with an understated soundtrack to the visual feast, sometimes driving the show forward with boldness and force, the music guided us throughout the performance.

There’s so much more I could say about the show but words will never fully describe the experience or prepare you for the masterpiece that is Cavalia. If you get the opportunity, get yourself to one of their shows and experience it for yourself.

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Marketing Misery


In the wake of the Boston bombings I’m left asking what kind of sickness drives a person to create fake stories that feed off disaster? What could possible push a person to crave attention so much that they use a tragedy to manipulate social media to get noticed or even create profit?

Within hours of the Boston Marathon explosions I was seeing friends sharing tragic stories of love and loss via social networking sites. The sad thing was, the stories weren’t true. Other, less honourable people had devised stories to take advantage of the bombings and to manipulate good people into sharing their cruel creations online.

It wasn’t that the people that were sharing the stories were naive or gullible, it’s that they were trusting and it never entered their minds that someone could be so callous as to make up stories that would feed on the misery of others. My friends had acted in good faith. Those who had created the stories were feeding off the misery of others.

The death of innocence

Hundreds of thousands of people shared the picture of a small girl who supposedly died in the blasts. She wasn’t even there. It was the photo of a young, very much alive, young girl. I can only imagine the kind of damage that will cause her and her family.

Love lost

Many others shared the story of the man who lost the love of his life before he had a chance to propose. The story said he was going to propose to his girlfriend after the marathon. It even had a picture of him kneeling over her lifeless body. The picture was real but it was actually a guy helping a stranger after the explosion. She didn’t die either.

Some people took the opportunity to create Twitter accounts or to register domains to either cash in on tragedy or stroke their sick egos. I’m also now receiving spam emails with titles like, “Boston Explosion Caught on Video”, “2 Explosions at Boston Marathon” and “Video of Explosion at the Boston Marathon 2013”, all designed to use people’s natural interest in the tragedy to get them to click o links that will compromise their computers.

It’s so sad to think that today’s “what’s in it for me” generation has gone beyond simply being self seeking to becoming oblivious to the suffering of other people.

Check before posting
While it’s yet another reminder for all of us to check details before we share anything on social media, it’s also concerning to see this developing trend of people being prepared to ignore their conscience to further their own interests. Shocking when you realise that those interests are often just about seeing a fake story shared or liked across the world.

If you’re looking for a way to check some of the stories that you see on social media let me recommend Snopes and Hoax Slayer. A quick visit to either of those sites should confirm whether a story is true or not.

There’s good news too

Thankfully there’s good news coming out of social media use too. The vast majority of people around the world have been using social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter to keep others informed, offer help, and to encourage others to pray. Then there are stories like the one where a Melbourne Dad praises Facebook for helping to find his daughter after Boston bombings.

Directed away from the area by police and without a mobile phone Mr Phillips had no way of contacting Annabel or his wife, Suzy – until a kind stranger offered him their phone, and he was able to leave a message for them on Facebook.

If you want to find out more about some of the stories being shared check out Some of the most emotional Boston marathon stories are fake.

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