‘Chaos theory’ refers to a field of study in mathematics that studies the behaviour of dynamic systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions – a response often called ‘the butterfly effect’.
The phrase ‘four seasons in one day’ is used to describe weather fronts moving through so fast, you feel like you are experiencing four seasons in a single day.
The words ‘too soon’ indicate that a comment on a particular subject which was intended to be funny, or perhaps reflective, was ill-timed, due to the chronological proximity of the comment to the, usually tragic, event it refers to.
Social media defies decipher, because it is an emotional and illogical medium that brings together aspects of ‘chaos theory’, ‘four seasons in one day’, topped off with cries of ‘too soon’, all going viral in the blink of an eye around the globe.
Social media is the home of the moral panic, the cyber lynch-mob and, in the words of Principal Skinner from The Simpson, people with the ‘ability to be personally offended by broad social trends’.
Social media is a mirror on our complex cultural, political and social caldron, magnified, and often set on fire, by ubiquity and anonymity. Add to this the global, and viral nature of social media and no wonder some still wonders why anyone would ever join, or dare to offer an opinion on, social media.
If you are a heavy user of social media you can be assured running into a social media storm, or a trolling incident, is a question of when, not if … unless your social media presence is characterised by utter and unquestionable banality.
The topics that are most likely to get you into ‘trouble’ are quite predictable: bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, politics, racism and religion. For or against, for better or worse, you are likely to find someone on social media who will take an issue with your position.
You have two choices:
- you can avoid social media, and miss out on a whole new world of information and entertainment; or
- you can take a chance and dive in.
Social media is a legitimate business tool, although it is still misunderstood and mistrusted by many. Social media can bring you real-time news, business and competitive intelligence, and help you with work-life integration. It is a tool for customer relationship management and business development.
Personal branding, including a professional social media presence, is becoming a quintessential professional standard at all levels of seniority, in all industries.
Many struggle getting their head around the concept of personal branding, or identifying the relevant platforms and creating a professional online profile, whether on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, and those difficulties can further contribute to the unease many feel about social media.
If you dive in, be professional, but be true to yourself, be proud and honest about the matters that are important to you and don’t ‘manufacture’ what you may consider to be an ‘acceptable’ image for yourself on social media.
Although strictly speaking no one is ‘entitled’ to an opinion, there is nothing wrong with having one. Of course if you express an opinion on a subject, keep in mind that social media is … well, social, and you may be challenged on your opinion. If so, it’s helpful to have a coherent, logical and factually supported argument in defence of your opinion, otherwise you may come across less than considered and wise.
The ability to back up your opinions with well-thought-out arguments is especially important if you are a professional, and present yourself as such on social media.
Of course, if you have culturally or socially unacceptable views, such as homophobic, misogynistic or racist tendencies, you may need to be cautious about taking to social media. These days many employers have social media policies that deal with online behaviour that brings the employer into disrepute, and homophobia, misogyny and racism could be a fast track to the unemployment line at social security.
• Social media round-up (5 December 2015)
• Social media round-up (3 November 2015)
• Social media round-up (2 October 2015)
• Social media round-up (22 September 2015)
• A bad social media month for SBS (25 May 2015)
• Scott McIntyre v Special Broadcasting Service Corporation (20 May 2015)
• What’s new in social media (9 May 2015)
• Social media meets the law (21 March 2015)
Sacking offences may also arise from otherwise arguably innocuous social media posts, if your timing is off. Scott McIntyre of SBS learned this the hard way on ANZAC Day.
Another common theme on social media is the general difficulty to convey tone, such as humour or sarcasm, and this has been the source of many misunderstandings, and subsequent online witch hunts.
Social media is agile, changeable and fickle. What may be acceptable in the morning, could bring a cyber lynch-mob at lunchtime, fizzle by the afternoon, and elicit yawns in the evening – four seasons in one day.
If your social media faux pas does touch a raw nerve due to its inappropriate content, perceived tone, or poor timing, and sets off a moral panic and unleashes a cyber lynch-mob, you are in for a rough time.
Such an incident will be tough, but largely manageable:
- if you made a mistake, own it. Do not dig yourself a bigger hole with lame excuses. Apologise – apologise sincerely and profusely;
- if it wasn’t your first mistake, you will need to consider what other practical actions you can take, as well as giving an apology, to prove contrition and personal growth;
- learn from your mistake and don’t ever make it again;
- if you are absolutely sure your social media mess is the result of a huge misunderstanding, explain yourself clearly and succinctly, as soon as possible – if that fails to work, see points one, two and three;
- if you are being trolled as a result, do not respond, ever. It is tempting to try to explain your side of the story, but this will never work when dealing with trolls – ignoring trolls, starving them of attention, is arguably the most effective method of bringing an unpleasant episode of trolling to a conclusion;
- from experience, it’s best not to contact the relevant social media company to report the abuse or harassment, despite what they tell you to do in their policies – this is not intended to be a criticism, but simply an acknowledgement of the scale and nature of the problem. Reporting trolls will only make them more determined. They will either come back at you from the same account once it is restored after a ‘timeout’, or will simply set up a new anonymous account in just minutes to attack you again. It’s a no-win situation;
- some choose to bravely call out their bullies and trolls publicly – a number of brave women in the media have had enough and now choose to take a stand by outing and shaming their bullies and trolls publicly. This is an admirable stand, but I wouldn’t recommend this option for people without a public profile and the social support that comes from that;
- however, if the bullying or trolling makes you fear for your personal safety, or otherwise breaches the law, contact the police immediately;
- finally, you will need someone to talk to. No matter how strong and confident you are, you will need support during a sustained bullying or trolling attack. The abuse and hate can take a significant emotional, mental and physical toll – that’s why bullying and trolling are so ‘effective’.
If bullying or trolling is affecting you, and you need to talk to someone, contact LifeLine on 13 11 14.