FRIEND OR FOE?
The world has since undergone immense change and moved to a platform so digital, so immediate and so future-focused, that the world your parents lived in, without Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, YouTube or Twitter, probably seems like a prehistoric age of sorts. But if you read back just a few lines, you will see the words ‘future-focused’. That means, giving great consideration to what is to come, or might come. The question is, what should the teenager of today make of those words, ‘future-focused’?
If you are focused on the future, you are extremely attentive to your thoughts, words and deeds of today, because there is no way today cannot affect tomorrow. Part of the reality you live today has to do with the choices you made yesterday and yesteryear. There are of course things you cannot control and should take no responsibility for; like Covid-19 for example. And there are things only you can take responsibility for, like projects which are marked ‘zero’ because you simply failed to get around to them in time.
It would be extremely unwise of you to lose sight of or trivialise the effect today has on tomorrow. It would be sheer irresponsibility to say or do things without properly thinking them through and asking yourself if you are in any way jeopardising your future or someone else’s. No one can tell you not to have an opinion, of course. After all, others have opinions of you. But to share your opinions without carefully thinking through the potential consequences, and without considering the possible size and nature of the audience, could create misery down the line that you cannot possibly fathom when you are ‘in the moment.’ Often, when you are in an incensed or otherwise emotional state, you want to share your emotions with the world. You want everyone to know how angered you feel, you want to tell them who did you or someone you care about wrong, and what you want done to them for their wrongdoing. No one is saying you should not access your emotions or want others to be aware of them. But there must be structure and careful thought to your approach, even if you know or strongly feel you are right in your thinking.
The easiest way to introduce structure to your approach is to reference a key piece of information available to all SPC students - the Code of Conduct, and the Social Media Policy within that Code of Conduct. It is important to actually know where your school stands on the sharing of opinions and information. Unless you take the time to know what the Code of Conduct states, you remain uninformed and if you are uninformed, you will likely make errors of judgment. As an SPC student, you are in a contractual agreement with the school. You agree to follow the Code of Conduct and you agree to the consequences of not following the Code of Conduct. That is why it is so important to actually read it.
Often, when you are in an incensed state, you want to share your opinion with the world. No one is saying you should not access your feelings or want others to be aware of them. But there must be structure and careful thought to your approach, even if you know or strongly feel you are right in your thinking.
If a house is broken into, and the perpetrator is known to the owner, that owner might want everyone to know who the perpetrator is and what should become of them. But it is not for the homeowner to embark on their own road to justice or incite potentially fatal mob justice. These measures might bring temporary satisfaction, but ultimately only create greater problems. When the police do eventually get involved, both the perpetrator and the homeowner are considered criminals; one for housebreaking and the other for taking the law into their own hands. Instead of allowing the hand of justice or fate to deal with the perpetrator, the homeowner is now dealt with their own hand of fate and suffers great inconvenience and consequence for it.
And what if the homeowner acts on a hunch, attacking someone he/she believes to be the perpetrator, but who actually isn’t? Two massive problems are created – the homeowner finds themselves locked up for assault, and the real perpetrator remains at large.
As an SPC student, you are in a contractual agreement with the school. You agree to follow the Code of Conduct – and you agree to the consequences of not following the Code of Conduct.
The relevance of all this to social media now becomes clearer. As mentioned before, you have every right to feel emotional over issues that trouble or hurt you. But for every trouble or hurt, there are preferred and recommended options in terms of resolution. Should you become aware of, or suspect an injustice at St Peter’s College; yes, you are allowed to be concerned and to want the matter addressed. You then should share your concerns with your teacher, your grade head or even the headmaster, depending on the situation. This is no doubt the more boring option as it denies you the rush and excitement of seeing people’s responses to a piece of information you have. When you share something with a person in authority, you do not get ‘likes’. You do not enjoy the rush of attention and the flood of comments. But you do one critical thing, which is to be future-focused and to protect yourself and others, from unwanted and often painful consequences. The benefit of this far outweighs the benefit of ‘street cred’ or the rush that comes from public acknowledgment.
When you bring something to a person in authority rather than take it on yourself, you are not being cowardly or defeatist. You are demonstrating maturity and responsibility and protecting yourself and your future. Social media might allow for retractions and apologies, but it does not allow for amnesia. No one forgets what you posted on a social platform. You could share it at 2 am and delete it seconds after, but social media being what it is, someone will see it and do a screenshot of it. Or share it. Or repost it.
When you share something on social media, be assured of one thing. You have shared it with the world. Not just with the group of people you originally intended sharing it with. It has potentially gone viral because you cannot control the actions of others once the information hits a public platform. They might initially agree not to share it, and change their minds tomorrow. They could change their minds a year from now. They could change their minds 20 years from now when you are running for public office. After all, you shared it with them years ago; why can’t they do the same?
Sound impossible? Too far-fetched? It has happened to hundreds of thousands of people. It has in fact happened to millions of people - and millions of people have suffered legal consequences for it. Courts. Lawyers. Bad press. Fines. Imprisonment. It has happened – and no one is immune to it.
When you share something on social media, be assured of something. You have shared it with the world. Not just with the group of people you originally intended sharing it with. It has potentially gone to billions of people because you cannot control the actions of others once the information hits a public platform.
The bottom line is you do not have the right to circulate information that may unfairly hurt, defame or prejudice others. They may suffer immense consequences because of your actions, and you in turn will likely face legal or other backlash of some sort. If not immediately, then eventually.
It’s wrong to share sensitive information on a public platform to trigger a reaction in others. It’s wrong to create a campaign of hatred against your target or targets. It’s wrong to do it just to get likes and comments. It is wrong, period. It turns out to be fantastically painful for everyone involved when you go about something the wrong way. Your target feels the pain, yes, and maybe that’s what you wanted. But then, sooner or later, you feel pain too. As do any others you may have brought into your campaign, intentionally or not.
A hate campaign is not always intentional. Perhaps you were just venting or felt the need to make something known. But because what you made known triggered a negative reaction in others, many people may mistakenly assume you intended it.
Resolve school-related matters by taking them to an authority figure at the school. Resolve personal matters by taking them to a trusted adult in your life. You have every right to want answers and to keep checking in with the adult concerned. There is only one way to go about things, and that is the right way. Usually, the right way is the slower way. Very often it is the boring way. But one thing is guaranteed, it is the future-focused way. It spares you the pain and trauma of something coming back to hit you in the face, like a boomerang. That boomerang may take decades. But this remains true - the pain and embarrassment you wanted to inflict on another, often turns around and becomes a burden to you as well. It can happen that way, even when you genuinely intended no hurt. It can happen when all you wanted was to call attention to a concern of yours, or were bravely representing the collective concerns of others. Share your concerns – but think very carefully about how to do so responsibly and fairly.
Social media has changed the world. It is incredibly powerful and is very often used to greatly positive effect. Use it, but use it responsibly. Correct and educate your friends when you become aware of them using it in a wrong or risky way. An electronic trail can never be erased. There is no button on your phone, tablet or laptop that can delete what you have placed in another person’s mind, what you have let them see or hear. There will never be such a button because humans are created with the capacity to make their own decisions about how to use information that comes to them.
Think of tomorrow, today. Protect your future.