Counselor self-care: Putting up (virtual) fences

Better virtual fences, better actual relationships.

Last week, I wrote a little about how social media can spur feelings of jealousy or inadequacy. Thanks to everyone that commented! I’m glad I’m not the only one that has to take a break occasionally. Luckily, I’ve been really busy with the start of classes and social media right now ranks low on my priorities, somewhere between getting a spray tan and adopting a new puppy. (Read: really, really low.)

A dear friend’s comment on the post brought another social media issue to light. Facebook can dredge up all kinds of hurt, whether from old boyfriends, soured (real-life) friendships, or friends with wildly different and possibly rage-inducing opinions. Your college boyfriend screaming his (possibly uninformed and also possibly misspelled) political opinion on something you wholeheartedly believe at the top of your newsfeed? OUCH. All you intended for was to stay in touch.

We are also fortunate (*sarcasm*) to live in the Age of Overshare. Didn’t want to hear about your baby niece’s explosive diaper incident? TOO BAD. Didn’t want to watch your overly-dramatic roommate duke it out with her boyfriend via Facebook instead of face to face? TOO BAD. Thanks to the highly entertaining website STFU Parents, I now know that overshare is a national issue, and I’m pretty sure parents aren’t the only guilty ones.

Where is this scream-your-business-at-the-top-of-your-lungs attitude coming from? For one thing, the perceived anonymity of the internet emboldens us to share things we normally wouldn’t, or to be a little (or a lot) less civil than we would in face-to-face interactions. Even Facebook provides some level of remove, despite the personal profiles. In addition, American culture has begun to reward bad, rude, selfish, and just plain stupid behavior. Reality TV, anyone? Finally, Facebook provides a sort of level playing field–anyone can be friends with anyone (sort of). There’s less of a social hierarchy than exists in real life, so things you’d tell only close friends may end up being things you shout to the entire world.

Current technology has also redefined traditional boundaries of communication. Today, it’s perceived as normal to receive work emails at home, for students to tweet teachers, and for friends to Facebook message instead of talking on the phone. It’s nice that we can do all of these things, but it tends to blur the lines between different aspects of our lives that might be best left separate.

The net effect of overshare, a level playing field, and lack of communicational barriers is that we put less thought into what we’re saying and how we’re saying it. It’s so easy to post about your girlfriend drama, for example, but should you? And it’s so easy to feel offended by said drama for whatever reason, but should you? Sounds like we need some boundaries and ground rules.

For  speakers: What are you saying and why are you saying it–to incite reactions from others or to share information? Who is it intended for–everyone or a select few? How are you saying it–is [Facebook, text message, Twitter, etc.] the best and most appropriate method of sharing this information? Would you say what you’re about to say in person? Does it involve other people, thus making some other (more private) form of communication more appropriate? How would you feel on the receiving end of this information?

For listeners: What are the speaker’s possible motives? Does this person have a long record of not thinking before sharing? If you’re involved and would rather not be, take a deep breath and communicate privately to this person about why you’d like to not be a part, or how better to communicate with you. If it’s just some person that constantly clogs your newsfeed with stupid posts, learn the various ways of controlling what you see from that person, or if you prefer, remove them from your friends list. No shame in that, if it saves you a bit of a headache each day. Just don’t be that person that “cleans out” their friends list, and then “congratulates” their remaining friends on making the cut, though. That’s tacky and kind of a personal pet peeve.

Finally, and something that has guided me for the past few years: The internet is forever. Anything you put online, for any length of time, could theoretically be stored and duplicated forever. Scary! I was reminded of this when Facebook went through some changes recently, thus regurgitating EVERY SINGLE MESSAGE I HAD EVER SENT. I was flabbergasted, and then went on a deleting frenzy. Which probably won’t help, and it’ll happen again the next time Facebook makes some big changes, but at least my panic was mollified for now. If you don’t want to see it again in 16 years at the worst possible time, don’t put it out there!

Basically, put up some virtual fences. Experience social media on your terms, whatever you need to stay healthy. I realize that using social media is a choice, but it’s quickly becoming a communication necessity. You are in control of what you experience and how you experience it, and what you say and how you say it. Model effective social media communication, and hopefully others around you will notice and start to do the same. Although let’s not lie, I’d be a little disappointed if we managed to put STFU, Parents out of business! I need funny things to read!



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