The Social Media trap: “is that tweet / blog about me?”

I have been pondering this blog post for a while and wondering, on the one hand, am I being stupid and, on the other hand, am I to blasé. Here is the background: in the last week on a more than one occasion something that I have either tweeted or posted in one of my blogs has been read by a follower and a friend as a personal attack on someone. I have re-read over and over the offending posts I see nothing offensive in them and other than the fact that someone has taken offence they “offending” posts are innocuous in the extreme.

My stupid thoughts are for this reason: I keep saying to myself that this is not a big deal, will be a boring blog that no one will read (not much change from the usual there) and really represents a storm in a tea cup.

My blasé thoughts are for this reason: I also keep saying to myself that this might be a bigger deal than I, or anyone else thinks, and there is a whole group of people out there worried sick about a tweet or blog post they have read on there timelines when they really shouldn’t be.

So why then am I writing about it? Well this whole issue this week has gotten me thinking about the vagaries of interpersonal communication and the fact that in the past decade to fifteen years the way we communicate has moved forward at light speed. All the while the human condition and our ability to assume, hypothesis, fantasise and wonder has not changed. As human beings we all have feelings and we are the only real controllers of said feelings.

Social media has swooped in and, coupled with SMS messaging, the time of picking up the phone and calling someone has passed by in the blink of an eye. Therein lies a problem as I see it: in textual form it is impossible to determine with 100% certainty the mood of the person, the “tone” of the message and, indeed, if the message was sent in anger. Social media only enhances the problem: suddenly one is expressing oneself in a public forum to a poultice of people one knows and does not know and none of these followers have any ability to gauge the underlying circumstances of each particular post.

We have all been guilty of this: tweeting / facebooking / SMSing when angry and saying things that we did not mean and, indeed, speaking directly ill of people. These are not the interactions I am talking about here. What I am talking about are the posts that have no intention behind them whatsoever but are read by those who read your posts in a different way. Let’s face it: everyone interprets things differently based as diverse range a qualities as mental state, effectiveness of reading and focus. If a blog one posts is read by say 100 (one day big fella!) people there could be 100 different interpretations some of which could escalate in the readers mind a negative opinion about themself, the writer and even the topic.

I have myself on occasion read a tweet / blog post and thought “is that talking about me?” I generally got a bit miffed at this and often resolved to not talk to said poster for a while. This is precisely what happened to me this week and it is just out and out wrong! The tweets I was reading and agonising over were not about me and nor were the tweets of mine that were read by others to be about them. Yet in all cases a negative impression was made of the tweet / post which lead to a reduction in the repoir between the two parties involved as well as some fairly hefty self loathing.

In all of the cases I advert to above the situation quickly resolved itself but left all parties with a clear understanding that from here on in we will actually talk to each on the phone, or in the case of someone I know only from twitter a direct message enquiry will immediately be made, before jumping to a mistaken conclusion and let our brains run wild.

There is another subset to this issue however that also requires ventilation. It arises in the context of this argument “if you are not too busy to tweet and blog, why are you too busy to reply to me?” This argument is deceptively in the same ball park as the principal problem because the reader and maker of the argument has determined that you are ignoring them because you have not yet replied. There is no simple answer to this one save that, again, surely it is easier to just pick up the phone and communicate than spend hours with negative thoughts festering about the other person’s motives.

Therein lies the principal message of this blog (crikey: I wrote a blog with a takeaway message?!?!): do not let yourself be swept up in the negative thoughts that come from reading a tweet / post that you think is about you or that makes you think that the sender is ignoring you. 99.9% of the time the posting WILL NOT BE ABOUT YOU nor will the person be actually ignoring you. If you are worried a simple enquiry should answer your internal questioning and self doubt. If you do not take that step you could find yourself, like me, unfortunately, at the end of a friendship because the negative thoughts surrounding one’s motives became too difficult to erase.

For the record, one of the two “combatants” in this weeks drama about the “social media trap” will be reading this and know that I am writing it. The other has severed communications. Aside from the use of the facts in issue this blog is not about them and, for safety, is NOT directed at anyone else.

The answer is simple, and I repeat it, NO the tweet / post is not about YOU! If you are in doubt ask the poster and I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

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