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Friday, June 12, 2015

The Wild, Wild West

There are so many wonderful things to say about Social Media.

Except, sometimes, it's not so wonderful. Much less 'social'.

I've come to call it "The Wild, Wild West."

I love media platforms like FaceBook because it allows me to keep up with family and friends - and, they with me. I'm not a huge fan of Twitter but I do concede that, if you are involved in political movements or concerned about politics, or want/need to build up a "following," it's the "go to" place.

I confess I can't even get my head wrapped around "Instagram" or "My Space". I'm part of the "Google Circle" and "Pintrest" but, to be perfectly honest, I don't know what the heck they really are or do. I suspect they were designed to be competition or an alternative to ... well... the others.

Then, there's "Linkedin". I get notices every now and again that someone wants to "link" with me but since I took my name out of that group years ago, I suppose I would have to re-up in order to "link" with anyone and I'm sorry, I'm just not doing that.

Social media has been front and center of late in bringing justice to people who would never have gotten justice any other way.

Smart phones with cameras and video capability are changing the legal landscape, especially for people for whom the legal system has not been a vehicle of justice.

And yet, social media can be a place of vicious personal attacks and enormous injustice.

Consider these two incidents, both occurring in the very same week.

For example, just this week, a Texas policeman forced to the ground a bikini clad teen girl and pulled his gun on two teen boys after an altercation at a pool party. The policeman was White. The teens were Black. The incident was filmed and posted on YouTube.  The policeman, a ten year veteran, was publicly reprimanded and forced to resign.

And yet, also this week, a noted and much beloved author tweeted some inappropriate and mean-spirited things about a certain transgender woman who has been on the cover of a major magazine. Her son, however, called his mom up short and she - eventually - apologized. Well, apologized for the hurt, not for the comment.

I don't know what it is about a public platform that makes people think they are entitled to say anything they want to say, anywhere they want to say it, to whom anyone they wish to say it, most of whom are total strangers.

Or, is it that 'justice' to some looks like 'invasion of privacy' to others? Where are the boundaries? Who makes the rules? How are they enforced? Who gets to say when they are broken?

Welcome to the Wild, Wild West.

I moderate a FaceBook Group for an organization I've been associated with for much of my adult life. I am deeply committed to it and want the FB page to be a reflection of the values of this organization.

Here's the thing: One does not have to be a member of the organization in order to be a member of this particular FaceBook page.

And, I think, therein lie incredible evangelism and membership possibilities as well as enormous potential for problems.

Part of the solution was to develop Comment Guidelines which were modeled after the guidelines developed by the community known as Sojourners. They are very similar to the guidelines I have in the comment section of this blog (see below).

When the conversations around particular "hot topics" get a little too hot for some people, it is good to have the Guidelines to point to - to ask everyone to take a deep breath, take a step back, read the Guidelines and then carefully consider a 'response' verses a 'reaction'.

I've learned that the moderator has to be diligent as well as consistent. Consistency in the application of the guidelines is absolutely necessary, which is why diligence is imperative. Which means, it can be very, very time consuming.

Of course, for my efforts, some have called me "arrogant" and "controlling," oh, and "evil" - which, I think, says more about what's going on for that person than anything true about me.

I suppose it can feel like someone is "arrogant" to have your words judged as inappropriate. When things are out of control someone has to take control. And, of course, there's projection. 

It's the cost of doing business as a leader. Moderators are leaders. People say stuff about you that is mean and untrue and makes you angry. And, you deal with it. Because you know it's not true.

However, when it begins to get out of hand, you take some action to clear your own name. As you'll see in a minute.

But mostly I am thanked for keeping the conversation moving without being inappropriate or mean-spirited. That happens just enough times to make it worth the effort.

Some have left their FB group membership of their own accord. I have had to remove exactly four people over the past ten years. I have blocked two. Two have blocked themselves from both the FB page and me.

You can't be a sissy in the Wild, Wild West.

I should say that I have never blocked anyone without warning and notice. I try to be fair. I try to provide an explanation as to why the comment(s) are inappropriate. Some people simply refuse to listen to that. They believe that if a FB page is "public" that means it is open to anyone and everyone and they can do and say whatever they want to whomever they wish.

See also: entitled and privileged.

Oh, and sometimes, bat crap crazy. 

The chaos one sees on some group pages is sometimes directly related to the style of moderation of the page.

Some moderators are very 'hands off'. Others delete comments they feel are 'inappropriate' - without telling the person who made the comment.

Still others change the 'rules' every other week and assume that this page must clearly be the center of the universe - because it is the center of their universe - and so you have, of course, read everything that's posted there, including rule changes, every day.

And, sometimes, the chaos is directly related to the pathos of some of the people - especially the so-called "owner" of the page - which reveals itself in the ethos of the page.

As for me, I'm proud to say I have been blocked twice in the past ten years - once on a blog and the other on a FB page.

The blog is "owned" by a group of folks who have mostly left The Episcopal Church. I am very proud to say that I stand firmly in an august group of people who have been blocked.

If I were to start reading off names, well, it would sound like a Who's Who of the Progressive Left. Honestly, it's great company.

We are able to read everything posted on that blog. We are just unable to comment. Actually, that's probably best for the soul. Although, I must say that in the past five years, things have calmed down quite a bit. At this point, we could probably write each other's blog posts. And comments. It's all so predictable and sad.

The other is a FB page that, if you didn't know better, sounds like it represents The Episcopal Church. It gets pretty rough over there, even though there have been as many as seven moderators, each taking turns "on duty". Although, I understand that, just recently, five of them abruptly quit, leaving just the original "owner" and one other person.

Apparently, I and a few other folk were blocked because we were commenting about the goings on over there on another FB page. I said I thought that what went on in that particular FB page was "an embarrassment to The Episcopal Church".

I meant it then. I mean it today.

There was no warning. No notice. No communication.

About a week later, I went over to check in and noticed I couldn't get on. Couldn't even find it in my FB feed. I checked with one of the moderators who told me that, yes, in fact, I had been blocked.

Which is fine. I really went over there once a week or so, mostly to shake my head in dismay, maybe offer a comment or post something I thought might stimulate some good discussion, and then leave.

So, here's where I have to defend myself. Apparently, the "owner" is telling folks - anyone who will listen, apparently but of course I don't know that for myself because, well, I'm blocked - that I had to be blocked because I called his rector to complain about being blocked and tried to sabotage his discernment process toward the priesthood.

Poor baby.

I would ignore it, except some people have asked me about it. At least one person I know and love asked me if it was true. While I was grateful for the question because at least I knew what lies were being spread about me, I was pretty devastated by being asked. I mean, as if . . . . 

So, in case you've heard anything and, you know, just for the record:

I know the man lives in a large, major metropolitan area. I don't know where, exactly. Neither do I know which church he attends. Therefore, I wouldn't know his rector. (Well, correction: I found out just yesterday when I asked a member of that church.)

For the record: I did not call his rector. That FB page may be the center of the owner's universe but it is not the center of mine. I don't know the rector and even if I did I certainly wouldn't call about something as ridiculous and frivolous as being blocked from a FB page.

I left the sixth grade a long, long time ago.

For the record: I do not believe one person has power in anyone's ordination process. Not the person discerning a call. Not the rector. Not even the bishop who needs the endorsement of the Standing Committee before he/she can ordain.

Discernment is done in community - in the community of faith, in the seminary community, the field education community, the community of Clinical Pastoral Education and the community of the Commission on Ministry.

So, one call from one priest to another is not going to deter a valid vocation to ordination. If it were that easy, many of us who are priests today would not be able to take our place in the councils of the church, much less cherish our place at the altar and in the pulpit.

I can say that if this "owner's" actions are any portent of the way conflict would be handled in a community of faith where he was leader, the church is in worse shape than the numbers reveal. Are we really surprised all of the moderators left in one fell swoop?

See also: Wild, Wild West.

You know, if this were the only incidence, I'd shrug my shoulders and say, "Meh!". But, this is going on all over the internet.

Comments can turn real ugly real fast, especially where there's a "drive by commenter" - someone who drops a bomb into the middle of the conversation, causing it to suddenly veer off into an entirely different and undesired direction.

Some groups are designed to be a place - a "private, safe place" - where people can express their anger, outrage, confusion and frustration over a particular event.

Unfortunately, these are very places where 'reptilian brain' is the only part of the cerebellum which is engaged. Expect 'reaction' vs 'response'. Expect a lot of snapping and snarling, aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual display.

Expect that, if you try to drop some reason or reasonable question into the discussion, you and it will be attacked like so much fresh, raw meat, which may be dragged over to another FB page - without your knowledge or permission - to be ridiculed.

Expect that reason - or anything but anger, outrage, confusion and frustration - will be seen as an attack on loyalty and devotion.  Expect that everything you say after that will be automatically suspect. Even maintaining silence but hitting "like" can cause you to experience snapping and snarling.

The rule of thumb is that any group known as a "safe space" probably isn't. Not unless you are willing to march lock-step with the prevailing opinions and attitudes. It is only really "safe" for those who want and need to be angry, outraged, confused and frustrated.

Trust me on this. I have learned the hard way and have the scars to prove it.

And, nothing is "private". Not on the internet. Don't kid yourself. Anyone can take anything you post and either take a "screen shot" of it or copied and cut and pasted and used anywhere by anyone. 

And yet . . . and yet . . . . Social media does some wonderful things. It is a powerful tool. Like any powerful tool, it can be used for good and abused for evil.

I don't know the answer, but I think we all have a sense of what might work.

Here are some of my suggestions, but they will only work if you see a problem and want change.

A little common sense is a good place to start.

The Golden Rule is probably the only rule anyone ever needs anywhere but it's especially applicable on Social Media.

Try practicing 'response' instead of 'reaction'. That may mean you have to wait a whole five minutes before you write something down in the comment section. Think it through. Ask yourself what will be helpful to this conversation.

I know that doesn't really work well on Social Media where everything is in "real time" but it might make the media more 'social'.

Try to avoid "snark" - which is a snide, sarcastic remark. Snark has become a prominent means of communication on social media. It's a "style" I'm told. Lighten up, they say to me.

Here's the thing: Sarcasm is always a manifestation of anger. When you find yourself about to make a 'snarky' comment, think about what's making your angry. Deal with that, first. Then make your comment.

Imagine that person is in the room with you. Look into that person's eyes. Would you say what you are about to write to that person's face? Would you say that to a total stranger? 

And, in case you haven't read them, these are the Comment Code of Conduct for this blog.
Comment Code of Conduct

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of this online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree—even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by the Blog Owner and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)

(With thanks to Sojourners)
I'm not recommending this code for everyone. It's still subjective. I get to decide.

I am recommending that everyone consider a code of conduct for your own comments.

I think it's our best chance for taming the Wild, Wild West - and helps us to have a prayer of putting the 'social' back into Social Media.


Bruce Garner said...

Amen, my sister, amen!

I would add one other "rule" or standard: Don't post anything you would not say to an individual's face....meaning don't use social media as a sniper's next to fire at people in cyber space what you would not say to them if they were in front of you.

Bruce Garner

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Good advice, Bruce. Maybe it's the detachment from a persons face and body that allows some people to act so uncharacteristicly.

Marthe said...

Oh, dear Elizabeth, how quaint, this notion of a code of conduct (and oh, how I pine for the days when such a thing was common, viable, respected) in an age of outrage, when freedom of speech is the excuse du jour for all manner of inconsiderate, hateful, demeaning discourse (and now, I laugh at myself for even using the word discourse which seems far too Downton Abbey for the blather of the internet) ... alas, even suggesting self-restraint is likely to bring on a deluge of objection from those offended by the idea that their precious words might be rejected by the delicate among us -- how dare we oppress them with our rules! Still, do toil on lest all sanity disappear from the fringes of the social contract.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I know Marthe. I know. Frankly, I'm really surprised I haven't gotten more of a blowback on this. All I can do is continue to raise up what I see and hold it up for consideration. Sanity? I'm not sure sanity has much of anything to do with much of anything that's posted in Social Media. Le sigh.

Mark Harris said...

Good stuff! I have been in the midst of working through an accidental but deeply hurtful comment I made that a reader took personally. Apology is not an easy dance, not if it is real. But it is an effort to return to humanity. M

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I saw that, Mark. You are a standup guy.