by Susan Gagliardi
Social media is everywhere, celebrating personal milestones, creating connections, sharing personal information, influencing elections, and making people angry. Do we participate or not? How do we know if we’re being sucked into responding to “fake news”? Those are the key questions today.
Some have written off social media apps, like Facebook and Twitter, to avoid the dangers of sharing personal information online, or to stay out of arguments that can separate best friends and families. However, in this technological world today, social media is here to stay – whether we like it or not. So knowing online social etiquette and being technologically savvy are important to being an informed citizen and a wise consumer.
The basics of learning online etiquette is like mastering the social skills we learned from our parents – “Don’t talk with your mouth full” or “Keep your elbows off the table.” Just as those manners and social skills had to be taught, we need to know certain basic rules for online communication. In today’s business world with so much communication online, what better work skills could we acquire?
In the cyber environment, we need to know the Do’s and Don’t’s of online communication, especially as they relate to our job performance. For example, we must know not to use all caps on a forum or email because that text element creates “shouting.” We need to know that emojis are not professional. We definitely need to refrain from using texting abbreviations in professional communications, like “btw,” “bfn,” or the ubiquitous “u,” “4,” or “i.”
We also need to re-read before we post or email to avoid miscommunication. How we say what we say comes across differently online than in person because we are “speaking” without facial expressions, tone of voice, or hand gestures (for those of us who are Italian or animated!). Words without visual body language can be blunter than we perhaps meant. So pause and review before emailing or posting because we want to respect others and communicate clearly.
In an online setting we learn to reflect, re-think, leave room for diversity and tolerance, and value others’ opinions and perspectives. Most importantly, we must learn the collaborative skills employers are seeking today. Much of national and international business utilizes collaboration in online formats. This collaborative environment could be anything from Microsoft teams, Skype calls, Zoom video-conferencing, or Google Chats, Meets, or Hang-Outs. More and more people are connecting for business purposes on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, among others. The business world is bigger than our offices now; our “office” now extends around the world . . . and into the future.
“I’ve got the power!”, the famous song goes, and these apps do have the power – the ability to network people and shrink distances. Social apps and other computer literacies create connections between individuals and groups that enrich our personal well-being, professional relationships, and society itself. Revolutions have begun through social media that have brought freedom and fostered independent thinking, like Facebook’s role in sparking the Arab Spring (2010-11). Why do some countries seek control of social media? They know the power.
So double-checking an article, tweet, or post for truthfulness is important. We do not want to be embarrassed because we posted “fake news,” and we definitely do not want to spread contaminated stories. So what do we do? We can check multiple online sites. Can we find the same story on a mainstream media outlet? Does more than one outlet report it with the same information? Does the article pander to excitement and seem over-exaggerated? Just using good, old-fashioned common sense and some healthy skepticism can be invaluable skills in determining the facts. Plato said, “Above all things, truth.”
And so, we choose . . . to tweet, that is, to learn the online skills, literacy, and collaboration needed for life and work in the 21st century.