It used to be that people would get trained in electronic communication by their HR departments. Things to be aware of, things to ignore, and things not to do. Electronic communication is so common these days though that other than inclusions of information about how not to harass or sexually harass, there’s not much instruction given.
Equally, there’s not much guidance given on social media. It’s a pity computers can’t readily read the mood of the user and pop up a little “Are you really sure you want to say that?” dialog box.
There’s a few tips though that people really should be aware of in order to avoid prickly situations when it comes to electronic communication. We grow up thinking communication is just about saying words to each other, but in reality when we’re talking face to face, a bunch of visual queues come into play – body language, facial expressions, and so on. That gets lost most of the time over social media and in other electronic forums, and with politics descending into ever increasing vitriol, I sometimes wonder whether people forget the lost nuances when talking to one another over the net.
So here’s some tips:
- Remember Hanlon’s Law: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” To be honest, if you’re not prepared to work with Hanlon’s law, you should close down your internet access and stay offline.
- If people don’t place emphasis on what they type (e.g., increased capitalisation, *asterisks for bold*, /slashes for italics/, etc.), don’t place emphasis on how you read it. Read it as-is.
- If someone asks an innocent question or makes an innocent statement and you assume malicious intent, unless you’ve got good evidence rule (1) above has been breached, you’re showing malicious intent if you respond badly.
- If you make a claim, be prepared to back it up, or be prepared to be called out for it. Knowledge is not to be trifled with, nor are facts. You’re entitled to your own opinion, you’re not entitled to your own facts.
In reality, that’s it. I could rephrase them a few times, put them in a few more scenarios, season them with more examples, but it shouldn’t need re-telling or re-highlighting because it really is that simple.
I’m not always perfect at the above; but when I do screw up, I feel pretty damn remorseful about it. So here’s probably one more tip: if you lack the capacity for self reflection, maybe you, too, should stay off the internet. (Of course, I recognise the irony here that someone who lacks the capacity for self reflection usually won’t be self reflective enough to recognise they lack that capacity. Que sera, sera!)