Every day, I learn so much about the world through the eyes of my children. My boys are 15 and nine and, like so many kids their age; they are significantly more fluent with technology and social media than I ever will be. It seems as much as I try to catch up with social media, such as establishing a Twitter presence, for example, they've already moved on to something else. Just a few days ago, my kids and I got talking about someone who was being discussed negatively on social media channels, and my oldest son commented, "He's going down, man."
As a psychologist mom, I typically seek to understand before making assumptions or sharing my own opinions. So, I started to inquire about the particular situation and, of more interest to me, what my sons thought about the running commentary. I was surprised by what I learned.
While I am still trying to grasp how easily the most private of matters are now shared publicly, how quickly assumptions about others are made without critical data, and how in a blink of an eye a reputation can seemingly be ruined; I thought my boys would find this new way of engagement normal, and my reaction, old school. Not the case. Both said it was "wrong" for people to comment on others in a "mean" way, and that they would "hate to be him." When my oldest son said, "he's going down," he explained that he realized people his age tend to believe what is shared on social media and how difficult it is to recover your reputation from a social media "blast."
We all know that social media is a growing force within our society. We have heard horror stories about the consequences of cyber bullying, and we've read about how lines have become blurred between what is private and public. What facilitates all this? The constant access to social media, and the speed with which information can now be shared is now very much a way of life. There are a multitude of explanations given for why people -- of all ages -- are feeling so liberal with their social media posts.
Dr. Aaron Mishara, a professor of Clinical Psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, recently commented about this issue in a KPCC-FM news interview titled: Why does social media so often go from sharing and shaming? Dr. Mishara had this to say: "There is a purpose to this public shaming. We compare ourselves to those who, for the moment, are less fortunate than we are [and] that makes us feel somewhat better. But just as public shaming is "hard-wired" into us, so is empathy, and that can offer a potential solution. Engaging in our empathetic side and taking the time to see things from the other person's perspective, "sort of balances this sort of other attacking side."
I couldn't agree more. I wonder if we have a moral question before us as much as anything else. My sons know people get hurt through social media, and they said they would be devastated if it ever turned on them personally. I bet most young people would say the same. Yet it seems so easy to share opinions about others right now even when we know the information that is put out there will cause pain. Has social media removed the barriers that have long been in place to censor and control hurtful comments and behavior? Does it provide an electronic buffer behind which a protagonist can hide? Will social media make it even easier, in the future, to dissolve the deteriorating barrier between private and public as it continues to evolve? And, of equal importance, where will it end?