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A friend and colleague recently sent me a document she found in her archives, it was a reflective piece she wrote for their local Telecentre News back in 1999, four years into this new idea of more and more of us being connected through this thing called the internet and newfangled e-mails as communications.
Communications. That's what it all boils down to really. Us communicating. With each other. With service providers. With anyone. With everyone. We become able to put forth our own attitudes, opinions, thoughts. We can become journalists, reporters of local events, opinion columnists and broadcasters to anyone who cares to tune in.
We have all of these tools and rights... and quite often, none of the training, and there are certainly some who tend to forget or discount, that with rights, come responsibilities.
I can vividly remember my Journalism Lecturers BI (Before Internet) giving us the basics, hell, we had whole lectures dedicated to these 'basics'.
Number one; Check your facts!
Followed very, very closely by rule number two; check your spelling and grammar! (PLEASE, for the love of God!)
Perhaps Journos aren't the best examples for good behaviour, trustworthiness and scruples, once upon a time I recall seeing them listed in one of the least trusted / respected professions list, only just below politicians and used car sales men (yes - back in those days it was just men!).
Journalists range, like any profession really, from good to bad. But there were always the professional, ethical standards that were taught, understood, and, hopefully adhered to. Bosses, employers and businesses who all had a stake in ensuring these responsibilities were upheld by the individuals writing the content.
There's none of that for the self-publishing opinionists or social journalists these days. Expressing ones’ self online is today seen as a technological given right. We have the right to, because we have the tools to…
Just because we can, doesn't mean we should! (Did I hear that on the internet?)
With rights, we must remember our responsibilities. Our social, personal and moral responsibilities.
As with everything in life, we should aim to go forward without inflicting ill-will or harm on anyone (okay, okay, so maybe that one's not from Journalism 101, more like Being a Decent Human 101).
This means checking facts, standing back from our writings and trying to see how it sounds or translates with someone else’s' lens on it. Hence the traditional role of the older, often wiser, more experienced Editor reading articles prior to going out to the masses. Those checks and balances are there for good reason, particularly when you're writing for a business or organisation.
We'd all do well to at least consider engaging some of these practices for our own soapboxes. It’s so easy to fire up at issues and things that you read and see online and in our community these days. It’s easy to smash out our opinion on a keyboard and hit post. Then personally wear the consequences, for better or worse, or worse still force the suffering of the consequences of our opinions onto someone else.
So how can we embrace our new power, because it is power, to be able to impart your 'spin' on current events, to be able to influence your audience, these are the reasons the Rupert Murdochs’ and Kerry Packers’ of the world invested so much in their media empires. The power. The influence. To sway public opinion, social discourses and drive or support political agendas.
We're the same. That's why we offer our opinions in the first place. Isn't it? To influence others, to champion our (or someone else’s) cause and to build our tribe of like-minded individuals. Social media is great tool, it does help us express our opinions, find our tribe and perhaps even feel a little powerful and influential.
Social media is an even more powerful tool than traditional print media. The ability for it to be shared and shared again in seconds, around the globe, makes it an extremely powerful tool indeed.
Now I can think of a number of quotes, most likely from a variety of social media sites or posts over the years, to the point of us not really knowing who said it first or what context it was originally intended in, that relate to this new way of communing with the masses. A favourite and one I have to keep reminding myself of is …
Seek first to understand, and only once we understand should we seek to be understood.
Social media has seen more than one person damaged by words and tormented by the nastiness and venom that some send out, either intentionally or otherwise.
It is definitely not the tool that has the power, it’s the user of the tool who has the power, and the control. Perhaps it’s a lack of understanding, or perhaps a lack of care for one’s fellow humans, or indeed, lack of self-control. Either way, we, as decent human beings, need to stop before we click. Whether it’s an email, a video or any other form of social media post, we need to step back and ask ourselves a question or three.
Firstly, “What would my grandmother think of me saying this in this way?”
Then ask, “If I was having a bad day, how might I take this?”
Other considerations one might like to include are, what am I trying to achieve with this post, why do I feel the need to say this? Are all of the things I’m reacting to, and saying, the truth or someone else’s or my own version of the truth? Will anyone or anything suffer damage (either to their reputation or otherwise) from what I'm about to post?
If you can't answer any of those questions honestly without a cringe factor or you're unsure - don't post it. Or have someone else read over it to offer some suggestions for rewording. You never know, it might just be yourself that you save from the consequences one day, because these things can come back on us or our community.
So, by all means type out your frustrations, but put the filter over them before you share. The filter in dot points:
And now I will climb down from my soapbox and we can return to our regularly scheduled newsfeeds ... Enjoy your weekend!
Natika describes herself as a tech-tragic. Having been swept up in Apple Mania, this is where she's at her most tragic, but she's been an early adopter of new technologies for years and loves exploring ways to adapt the latest gadgets into everyday life.