One of the things I wanted to do with this blog this year was venture out from under my scared little stone and talk about issues that might be considered controversial. I’ve been struggling to put together something that worked rather than sounding like a rant. I wanted something that made myself and others think. And I finally found a topic that did that and helped me piece my thoughts together; Responsibility.
The word conjures up a lot of different thoughts and feelings, ranging from our responsibility as children, parents, lovers, as well as to the environment. Despite the title none of these are what I wish to discuss. I want to focus on the growing responsibility I have found connected to the growth of social networking; the responsibility we have to those we meet online. There are and always will be those who will never care if what they say offends others. I’ve removed old school friends from facebook for exactly this reason on more than one occasion. It is in my nature to try to get people to understand, to see where I’m coming from, and of course I have been met with adversity. Other times I have witnessed times when others have reacted to something said in a blog or on facebook/twitter in a way which could be considered the same, yet it irritates me and I find it oppressive. So just how much responsibility do we have when we speak online? How aware should we be of what offends others?
I like to think that what offends me, such as prejudice, animal cruelty and ignorance, are key issues that are universally known as being a bad thing. So if I call someone up on them they should feel guilty for their actions. I’m sure some of you are probably nodding your head to at least one of those causes as you read this. The problem is that we each individually have a unique view of how far someone ‘should go’. We also react to humor in different ways. An appropriate example would be the show Top Gear. I know that most of the comments I find funny could be considered racist and sexist, but in that context I see them as harmless and therefore do not feel guilty for laughing at them. It is entertainment, it isn’t there to cause harm. Yet at the same time when someone says ‘that’s so gay’ I find myself filling with anger at the connotation of gay being a bad thing.
I have to admit that as I have grown older I’ve stopped trying to change people out of bad habits like that. Have I just grown cynical? Or perhaps I am simply maturing and recognising that the slang people use doesn’t necessarily reflect on their moral character. I think that as friends/followers of people on social networks and readers of blogs that we also have a responsibility; not to push our own “issues” onto others. On more than one occasion I have seen someone’s happiness marred by someone commenting in such a way that the original poster is made to feel guilty or depressed. Sometimes it seems that as a friend we are required to censor our own thoughts and opinions because it might offend someone else, or cause them to remember something negative. Of course, it is your responsibility as a friend to recognise that some subjects will cause your friends further harm i.e. talking about domestic abuse when you have a friend who was abused in such a way. There is also the ‘nettiquette’ of putting major spoilers of films, tv or books behind a cut in blogs as to not ‘spoil’ it for others.
Remember as a friend reading someone else’s facebook, twitter or blog that they deserve the right to be able to express themselves. Don’t rain on their parade simply because something they say causes a negative reaction in yourself. If they are your friend then you should know them well enough to understand that they meant no harm. Likewise even the most brilliant of friends can not remember everything that may trigger an unhappy thought or feeling in someone. Of course there may be some things said and done that are unforgivable, that show someones true colours so neither am I saying that we must never speak up. It’s a difficult balance to find and one I think many people online tend to forget.