Social Media - handle with care

Social Media - handle with care

Good to use it, better we understand it

Social networking has become an integral part of our lives. Despite a few negatives, we are strongly overwhelmed by its advantages and remain hooked most of the time to our Facebook or Twitter accounts. The growing popularity of social sites has changed a common person’s role from content consumer to that of a content creator. As contributors of subject matter or opinions, it becomes imperative for us to ensure the aptness of the material in question.  Earlier, celebrities and public figures used to be vigilant about press. They would think twice before making a statement in front of reporters. In the age of social media, the reporter has got replaced by a keyboard and hence we now have to be scared of our own fingers. Social media has virtually become a battlefield, where we need to wield the sword aka keyboard very carefully. The old adage of ‘speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil’ now has an addendum by way of ‘post no evil’.

Most of us have witnessed social media wars and trolling, the root cause of which happens to be a single message or post which is offensive. Well, the term ‘offensive’ happens to be quite subjective here. What may be normal to you, may seem offensive to others. Most of the times we offend folks unknowingly, as none of us would want to antagonise someone deliberately (unless of course we are frantically looking for a reason to fight). We need to realise that unlike physical face-to-face discussions, social media posts are accessible to everyone. With a huge audience (literally the whole world), one needs to keep in mind deep rooted sentiments of all sects, communities and nationalities. The issues arising out of social messages can be attributed to two basic reasons, first one being that most of the social posts are impulsive and reactionary. A person generally expresses his or her opinion as a reaction to some event or another post in a rapid manner, without spending enough time to ponder on it. The second equally important reason is the fact that posts or tweets tend to be very short and precise, with a lack of any explanatory notes. Hence there is a high possibility of the reader interpreting and perceiving in a totally different connotation than what the author meant. Thus, the biggest challenge is in the interpretation of the message, rather than the message itself. 

Another aspect of social media behaviour pertains to open criticism of an individual, section of the society, political party or the government itself. Complicating this is the debate of an individual impacting his organisational image. Do we expect a working individual to express his opinion freely or get restricted by his job role? While I am a strong proponent of freedom of speech, and would support voicing your opinion, one also needs to exercise some caution while venting out his or her emotions on a social platform, given one’s status and role. In this connection, I can recollect two recent instances of bad tweeting where the employers (one a US based MNC and another a UAE based Hotel) sprang to action and terminated the services of the concerned employees. It is notable that the employees had posted highly objectionable tweets purely in their individual capacity, but the employers took action since they felt the tweets were tarnishing their organisational image. So, the question arises as to how an individual’s opinion can be construed as that of his employer. I have often participated in forums or open discussions in my individual capacity, but have always been conscious enough not to make a statement which would undermine the image of the organisation I work for. 

Without being judgmental, I feel one has a constitutional right to express his opinion. However, he or she is expected to word the messages in an articulate manner, because of one’s status and the fact that he or she could be a role model for others, and their social messages could influence the thought process of their twitter followers. Moreover, one’s messages could be construed to include the views of the employer. The line between the individual and the executive being very thin, it is difficult for common people to distinguish across that line.

So, what defines the appropriateness of our posts? Well, the main point is that it should not hurt the sentiments of any section of the society, class, religion, sect, gender or nationality. You need to abstain from usage of abusive or unparliamentary language. People are entitled to a variety of opinions, but rather than hurtful posts, there are much more polite ways of expressing your difference of opinion with someone. Choose your words carefully, lest these be misinterpreted by others. While criticism is necessary for improvement, please restrict to healthy criticism rather than taunting one. Additionally, use your sense of humour with discretion. Your sense of humour or criticism may be different than others. Something posted by you in good humour may be inferred as serious by someone else.  I would conclude with using your sense of judgment to draw the line between humour and sarcasm.

We have often come across concerns of snooping and privacy intrusion on social sites. The very nature of the medium makes your content universally accessible. Possibly the administration, your employer, friends and relatives are free to read your content because you have yourself posted it for public consumption. Remember that your privacy is governed by your own keystrokes. Your posts should not reveal any private data, limiting it to only what you would want everyone to know. This holds especially good for posting your pictures on Instagram. We have been hearing innumerable cases of misuse of pictures picked up from social profiles. So, nobody is snooping on you, but organisations could be monitoring and analysing your behaviour based on your posts and tweets. In other words, you are getting profiled based on your social behaviour. In order to maintain a proper profile, it therefore becomes necessary to exercise prudence while posting on social sites.

The author can be reached at,  – @suneelwattal