Since social media became a phenomenon, people have explored it for various uses. In the virtual community, there are really no rules. Yes, even though most platforms provide the option of reporting toxic posts, more often than not, bad conduct goes unpunished. I am active on social media. I hardly have a choice because of the nature of my job which demands the use of the platform. However, even I am tempted to take a break from it sometimes. The reason – social media can be overwhelming. The cacophony of opinions, the controversies, dirty fights and fake life…it can all be a bit too much for a more introverted personality like mine.
Social media has however come to stay. While some still grapple with making sense of the riotous space it can often be, the discerning can learn a lot from the interactions therein. Beyond the obvious uses such as forging and strengthening relationships and information gleaning, social media can teach much more. Without further ado, here are five subtle lessons you can learn as you interact in the virtual world:
Who you don’t want to be like: Because social media is open to billions of people from every part of the world, it’s easy to get sucked into the shenanigans that go on there. You’ll find the cantankerous, who are always at loggerheads with others. You’ll find the showoffs, the instigators, the disrespectful and the downright dumb. But there’s no need to panic or dismiss the platform as one that promotes negativity. You only need to be discerning. As you interact and watch others interact, you can easily tell the kind of people you would rather not emulate. It’s something that would likely not occur to you as you mingle on Facebook or Twitter, but even as you read this, I bet you can recognise the characters that fit into the obnoxious category in your virtual circle. Yes, those ones. You really don’t want to be like them, do you?
Better ways to articulate your thoughts: Everybody writes on social media. We all share our views on issues and comment on other people’s posts. Beyond sharing and responding, the online community provides a forum where you can learn a lot from the way others string their sentences together. Truth be told, some people are gifted with the ability to express themselves well in writing, and while you might not necessarily want to be a writer, you could certainly do with better writing skills. With a little more intent on your part, you can learn new words, better sentence construction and improve your ability to communicate, thanks to social media.
Things are not always as they seem: We have seen a celebrity being called out for claiming puppies that never belonged to her. We have witnessed couples who never missed a chance to gush about themselves come out to admit it was all a ruse. We all know at least one person whose online life starkly contrasts with their physical reality. And for every one person we know who portrays what they aren’t on Instagram, there are hundreds of others we do not know, yet envy what they appear to have. Social media will always represent the medium where everyone projects the best of themselves and sometimes, what doesn’t even exist. It’s why it’s important to always remember that the virtual world is often different from the real world. So before you jump on that “Couple goals” bandwagon or covet a friend’s posh lifestyle, remember that what you see on social media has been carefully edited and may not reflect the true state of things.
In the midst of the chaos you can stand out: Nigerian Twitter, for instance, is an endless tunnel of controversies. People are often uncouth and insensitive to the feelings of others on the platform. And while Instagram and Facebook are saner, they also aren’t entirely void of obnoxious folks. People who get a kick out of being nasty to others. Nevertheless, you can be the sensible one in the midst of an irascible lot. You can stand out in your engagement with others. You can rise above the deluge of hate speeches and war of words that has become synonymous with social media. Choosing to be civil in your engagement with others does not make you boring. And well, if you’re really upset, you can employ sarcasm as your arsenal. Most people don’t understand it, anyway. You may not win the award for “Best Behaved” on Twitter or Facebook, but you will certainly earn respect and attract your kind of people on the platform.
How to handle controversy: Social media courts controversy all the time. You can never be too sure you’ll not find yourself enmeshed in one or the other. Your sincere thoughts on an issue may make it to one of the popular gossip blogs where audiences twist your words out of context, and before you know it, you are the villain in a movie you never auditioned for. Whether they were deliberately looking to be in the news for the wrong reasons or not, people have found themselves in these shoes. There are several “case studies” to learn from just in case you find yourself in the middle of one.
Banish the thought that social media is a harbinger all things bad. Rather, seek to read between the lines and take lessons from the community, as you should with every other thing.