Saturday, September 5, 2020

Dad Advice: Social Media & The Internet

Maddie & Gracie,

Back in 2009, while running for City Council in Gloucester City (boy I looked really fat in that picture), I started writing articles for Cleary’s Notebook, a South Jersey news blog owned by former Gloucester City News publisher Bill Cleary. From those initial articles and through the many comments or essays I wrote in the years following, I was indoctrinated to the power of Social Media. What I found was in their best moments social media sites can announce good news, deliver insightful information, share happy moments of achievement in peoples’ lives, while keeping friends or families connected over long distances. In bad moments it can provide a window for direct comments, from mostly anonymous posters, that are mean spirited, combative, insulting, ill-informed, and even outright lying. To his credit, Mr. Cleary did filter out profanity, libelous statements, and personal attacks on family members from the blog’s comments. However, even with that level of censorship, a lot of room remained for waging character attacks, personal slights, outrageous insinuations, and bold-faced fabrications. I always appreciated Mr. Cleary for giving me that opportunity and the invaluable exposure. 


What I quickly discovered is that when you put yourself “out there” on Social Media, having the courage or naivety to use your real name, you leave yourself exposed to the positives and negatives of the interaction. Thankfully, I had developed a thick skin earlier in my life so few comments ever troubled me – though a few got a little too close to home for my comfort. In the negative interactions, some people would insult my appearance, my intelligence, beliefs, integrity, motives, values, character, honesty, and principles. In response, I would usually use calm articulation to express my view point or validate my perspective – which rarely ever concluded the debate with an amicable accord. I would try to stay on point for the specifics of the topic being discussed but, that usually would elicit my anonymous opponent to broaden the argument to include irrelevant facts, meaningless speculation, angry insults, or twisting of my words to turn the discussion away from where we started. Not once had someone written back “you know Wil, I never thought of it like that, your insights have changed my mind”. Only once can I remember receiving a “we’ll have to respectfully agree to disagree on this subject” and that was only from someone whom I knew personally and used their own name in the comments.

So, my point to sharing these experiences on Social Media is this: use common sense and caution. What you write, record, post, tweet, or share on Facebook, Twitter, Tic-Toc, YouTube, or any place on the Internet in general, will open you up for the unexpected. Social Media is not a vast chasm devoid of consequence to spill your unvarnished thoughts. It is a transactional experience – intended or not, like it or not, and almost always inevitable. People, who you thought you knew well will surprise you with their views – and those perspectives may not be ones you hold personally. Many times while reading comments posted from people I believed to have a strong understanding of, had surprised me - both positively and negatively - and unfortunately one more than the other. 

Additionally, what you write on the internet may as well be chiseled in granite on a cave wall for assuredly someone will one day discover it. Be prudent in the emotions or insights you express as your passion at that moment can reflect poorly upon you in the real world. This can negatively affect your job, career path, friendships, relationships, and future prospects. I have seen people absolutely destroy themselves on Facebook or Twitter by posting something that they cannot easily walk back - ultimately burning some aspect of their life to the ground.

The internet is also a window into your personal life for others to view. You control the curtain but, what has been seen cannot be unseen so, protect yourself. I'll discuss other aspects in future posts as this one has gotten long enough.

Love you both always,


P.S. Yes, I do realize the irony of sharing my personal thoughts to you on a blog that anyone could read. Technology, as it turns out, is a funny, exciting, wonderful, horrible, monstrous and senseless tool. I guess the trick is in how you use the tool.