By Melissa Libby, Melissa Libby & Associates
When was last time you attended a cocktail party, wedding or other social event where a fight broke out? I mean a name-calling, yelling, party-shattering fight? Where most people at the party joined in to encourage the fight and throw a few barbs themselves, while a few quietly stood back and watched? Hardly what I would call “social.” And yet, this happens on social media every day. I’d love to see a movement to put the “social” back in “social media” and encourage people to remember what they learned in kindergarten about being nice. Or at least just being quiet when there’s nothing nice to say.
As a public relations professional, I’m curious why people feel they are able to behave online in ways I’m sure they never would in person. I’ll take the high road and assume they just don’t know better. After all, social media really is a new communication avenue, especially for adults. And perhaps not enough of us were taught how to use it. Our kindergarten teachers made sure we were nice and shared with others. Our parents did their best to see that we were well-mannered. (Sure we were not to talk to strangers, but who ever said we should be mean to them?) But, no one ever explained that the words flying off our fingertips to a group of Internet “friends” can be just as inappropriate as they would be coming from our lips at a cocktail party. Without a Miss Manners for online communication I submit that people are just making up their own rules, frequently forgetting that friends, strangers, celebrities, and yes, even political candidates, have feelings.
In my ideal world of communications I envision online gatherings full of supportive contributors and respectful debates. If each of us asked ourselves if we’d say the same words in front of a group of people at a cocktail party, I bet a few incendiary comments may be avoided. And if we as PR professionals can take the lead here, perhaps we can start some changes. Let’s talk about it with friends and clients. Let’s use the cocktail party test when we respond to people we like and don’t like online. Let’s put the social back in social media.