Back in the days when I was gainfully employed, my use of social media was pretty fleeting. I'd have a quick browse of FB for news from friends, I'd maybe tweet for big news events, and I'd blog perhaps once a month if I was lucky. I really wasn't that observant online. I was just visiting that world, and as a tourist, I liked the views.
In the past few months, I've had more time. So rather than my previous dash through the virtual town that is online-ville, I've been able to casually stroll down the streets, look in some shop windows, get beyond the tourist traps, and 'overhear' lots of passerbys' conversations.
In doing this I've come across some of the most amazing people I have ever met. In the online communities that have built around common interests (for me it's crafting and Project Life in particular, but I'm sure it equally applies to any hobby or pastime), online seems to brings out the best in people - you get to make friends with enthusiastic, caring, considerate, curious, sharing, energetic, living life to the full, encouraging, strong, funny, passionate and inspiring people you would never have had the chance to meet in real life. I count myself very lucky to have met quite a few of those lovely people.
And on FB and Twitter, there are some utterly fabulous people who are harnessing the vast power and influence of the online world to help people, to share good news, to pass on a smile, to get communities working together and just to brighten people's days. I'm lucky enough to know some of them too. And I'd kinda like to be even a little like them one day - I'm working on it.
Conversely, I've noticed that there is a whole group of other people who seem to use that online freedom to be mean. Perhaps it's not intentional, perhaps it's because the real-timeness of these media means people don't stop to think before they post, but it is a trend that is absolutely happening. I'm not talking about the light funny jokes here; I'm talking the really horrid stuff. I see tasteless and sick posts about tragic celebrity events or deaths, I see people openly mocking other people and their beliefs and morals and lifestyles; and perhaps most frequently, I've seen so many cruel comments about people's looks - what their hair is like, what they wear, their weight, their style, the list is endless.
Don't get me wrong; I'm no angel, I know that for instance I have made the odd comment about celebrities and their odd choice of stage clothing. But I don't understand the reason why people would post updates about real people, criticising them for what they look like in any way. Why would you want to do that? Seriously, what happened to being nice? If you have an opportunity to say something nice, or even to simply say nothing at all, why would you choose to say something that makes fun of someone? What does it say about the author of that post? What do they get from that?
And I know people will tell me to lighten up, that it doesn't really matter, that it's just words, that it doesn't mean anything. Maybe. Perhaps I am being too serious about it. But I do think words are powerful. I do worry that it's becoming less normal or ok to be nice, it's now cool to be mean; that a comment mocking someone's looks gets more 'likes' than a comment congratulating someone on an achievement. I do have concerns that the more we let this happen, the more we just shrug our shoulders and say it's harmless, that being mean becomes the norm, and that niceness will be lost forever.
Niceness is on the critical list. Time to give it some love.