Rules for Social Media or: Hard Lessons from the Live Journal Era

Itchy fingers twist with a juvenile rage that to nearly anyone else in the world would be laughed off.

But not you. Not now. 

You’ve been done wrong. Screwed over by the man. Or by the boyfriend/girlfriend. Or by a teacher or professor or manager or coach.

And, maturity-be-damned, you’re about to lash out using your best emojis and hash tags to let the world know exactly how you feel.

Isn’t social media great? This scenario is played out thousands, or more likely millions of times daily throughout the world. The days of wearing our heart on our collective sleeves are gone; now replaced with pouring our heart out in 140 characters to whoever will read. 

Is this really what we’ve come to? A world venting frustrations of the most miniscule kind to an overly apathetic following. How narcissistic of us!

Let me back up, because it’s unfair to paint myself as an upright judge on a soapbox in regards to social media diarrhea. 

Roughly 12 years ago or so, long before you tweeted or poked anyone online, there existed two main platforms of “social media”. These were AOL Instant Messenger, a chat service that allowed you to communicate via, well, text messages on computer. You could even leave an away message while you were gone that featured your location (like anyone cared) or a few lines from a Dashboard Confessional song (we were all emo at some point, right?)

The other platform was a nifty site known as “Live Journal”. Here you created an account and basically told everyone who would listen about your day or your thoughts or post random song lyrics and lame poetry. Once you shared your deepest darkest secrets online, you could also update with your emotional state at the time. Anything from “depressed” to “angry” to “melancholy” were offered up for you to pinpoint exactly where your newly updated entry fell on the scale of emotional overload. Basically Live Journal gave us all an opportunity to tell others exactly how we felt about anything, whether they cared or not.

Live Journal for me was fun. It was neat to have an outlet to share my creative writing gift, though usually it was a run-on sentence of updates on meaningless life happenings. I would post poetry I was proud of for about a dozen people to read, updates on sports which people didn’t need, and discussions on various happenings on campus.

The day Live Journal skidded out of control for me came when I did what no one should do, at least when they’re pissed off at someone: I named names.

It just happened to be during a frustrating time with a girl (shocking!) on campus. We had gone out a time or two, and basically I realized (sometime after her) that things weren’t really going anywhere. Rather than be a mature person and consider any potential relationship as D.O.A., I did what too many teenage emotion nitwits do in today’s world: I took to social media to rant about it.

I posted a lengthy post blaming the girl for screwing up any potential of a relationship we might have had, adding some unflattering things about her that weren’t really true. Really I was just angry that I had been dumped by someone who I wasn’t even technically dating. Really, I was just being a 19 year old making one of many mistakes, but my first seen by the online world.

Not long after I shared my pathetic heartbroken rant on Live Journal, the girl called me and let me know in so many words that she didn’t appreciate me writing the post and using her name. If it were TMZ, I was the sensationalizing journalist taking unfounded liberties with a story and she was the actress putting an end to the tale before it got worse.

I felt awful. I never wanted to hurt anyone, and thought (ignorantly) that my posts on LJ were safe from the eyes of anyone who might be offended by them. Yet, at the same time, a strange sense of validation crept in. Not only had people been reading my posts, but they stirred up enough interest to warrant a pleading call for removal. I had arrived at the hollow apex of local LJ stardom.

Reflecting back on that time I can only laugh. College kids will do what college kids will do, and at a small Christian college whose collective mice and keyboards entered uncharted online waters, setting precedents for communicative pitfalls came with the territory. We chatted online with people a few rooms down the hall. We downloaded thousands of songs for free before it was even labeled piracy (thanks Napster!). We searched everything imaginable via; some searches more regrettable than others. Successfully or not, we helped usher the internet from a basic online encyclopedia to a wide-ranging communication tool. 

Enter 2014. Communication can now be done in more ways anyone could have imagined. Calling on the phone is sooooo 1996. For that matter, e-mailing is too. Now you can text, but why text when you can message someone on Facebook? Maybe instead of that, just tweet someone. That’s quicker. But be sure to Instagram what you’re eating so they know. Scratch that. Just snap chat and you can see and hear them. 

There’s got to be some calm to this over-communicating chaos, right? We need ground rules. We need to find some common ground for common sense so A) our kids learn proper social media etiquette, and B) we don’t have to endure anymore updates on how many miles you ran or how cute you think your kid’s mispronunciation of any word that has the letter “r” in it is.

First, let’s apply some Twitter rules to Facebook. Keep your status updates around 140 characters there too. It’s just a bit annoying to be faced with your latest rant against the president or your rundown on every event that occurred in your life that day. 

Facebook status updates should not only be shorter, but have some impact. Be it emotional (I love salutes to military personnel on holidays), humorous (your quick witted jokes and one liners are great), or thought provoking (Maya Angelou quotes = good, Joel Osteen = please no never again).

Also on Twitter I don’t get invited to games. Now I personally don’t mind the few invites I get. It’s nothing to hit the ignore button. But really, stop it. I played Mafia Wars for like 3 months before I gave it up. I did Farmville for two days, and then realized I have a hard enough time watering my own REAL tomatoes, much less virtual ones.

On Twitter, keep re-tweets to a minimum. If you joined a social media service to simply be a middle man for every popular twitter user in America, then you need to retool your life. Some RTs are okay, given they’re links to good reads or funny quotes. But please don’t retweet someone everyone is following. The Oscars selfie with Ellen DeGeneres was great the first time I saw it, but mind-numbingly repetitive the 368th time I saw it.

And speaking of selfies, let’s try to stop this trend too. Selfies that include others are okay on occasion, but if your Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram feeds are nothing but ridiculous poses of yourself making the duck face or the face that simply looks weird because you aren’t smiling or even looking at the camera, you’ve got to find a life. It oozes narcissism if you feel the urge to show the world every new outfit, haircut, or your face whenever you travel somewhere super-duper cool. Because really, your face looks the same if you’re in front of the Grand Canyon as it does with you standing in front of the mirror in your dimly lit bathroom.

And since we’re talking about pictures we post on social media, let me make my plea now for you teenage girls: stop. I know what you’re thinking: the guys will really notice me more if I post this picture of me showing more skin than a Maxim magazine. Maybe a picture of me showing cleavage will get me over 100 likes on Instagram. Maybe a picture of me in a bikini I shouldn’t even be wearing at age 16 will boost my confidence with the guys that will comment with such well-versed comments like “damn shorty u fine!”

No. Just stop it. Put your phone down before you take the picture and think to yourself these things: Is this picture sending the message of what I want to world to know me as? Is this picture painting me in the best light in regards to not just my looks, but my intelligence, compassion for others, thoughts on social issues, and ideas on how to make the world better? Will this picture affect me at all in my endeavors to get a job or internship? Will this picture make my mom and dad proud? And lastly, will this picture get distributed into the hands of a pedophile, rapist, or sex trafficker?

As I step off of the selfie soapbox, let’s talk about the things we actually type on FB, Twitter, etc. If you’re anywhere near adulthood (18 and over), then you should know social media is not the place for you to unleash rage and anger. It isn’t the place to make jabs at somebody else, even indirectly.

I’ve seen it many times. The scorned woman who makes even passive cruel remarks about her husband. The dude who got dumped and rants along with labeling all females as whores. The divorcees who can’t seem to stop bad-mouthing each other online, inevitably as their own children watch every comment posted.

Teenagers seem to have the biggest problem with this, which isn’t really surprising. The problem arises when Twitter comments from one or two spread like wildfire to dozens of people ripping someone on Twitter. You then have 21st century cyber bullies: they don’t take your lunch money, just your dignity and self-esteem. 

My suggestion? If you’re a parent, know what your kids post. Read everything. Every word. If they post anything even remotely questionable, make sure it’s deleted. Also, be sensible role models. Don’t write sniping comments about others on Facebook and then flip the switch on your kid. Be better than that. Be…mature.

College students: know that whatever you’re posting is seen by the world. In your case, the world consists of potential employers. As one who employs numerous college students, I can tell you several times I’ve declined to even interview someone if there were dozens of pictures of bros doing keg stands.

Teenagers: simply be aware. We know you’re going to invade and take over social media. You already have. I know because I see too many references to Regina George from Mean Girls and Justin Bieber is trending at least every other day. Not to mention the “OMG I hate chemistry” tweets or the hand-on-the-side-stick-out-my-hip poses in pictures. Seriously, know what you post is seen by more than just the guys on the football team or your girlfriends.

I’ve learned many lessons in the school of social media. I’ve still got more to learn (still don’t know what a “subtweet” is), but I’m experienced enough to know that the world of social media can affect our real worlds in unkind ways. Maybe in this shiny new age of evolving technology we just need to heed our momma’s old advice: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.