May, 2011

After first protesting that I don’t really have time to start networking online, with so little free time to spare in the real world, a few years ago I ventured into cyberspace anyway. I ended up embracing social media with arms open wide. At my core, I am a huge believer in connecting, building communities based on common interests and communicating…all positives. But today I have to admit two things: it really does take lots of time and sometimes online interactions aren’t so positive.

As you may be aware, I facebook live during our 5 and 10pm newscasts. I love the instant feedback! What I don’t love is some of the vicious responses I sometimes am forced to read. To be fair, those are in the minority but when commenters hide behind their online anonymity to lash out at others (or me), it makes me angry.

First, I think it’s cowardly. Second, I think it’s a wasted opportunity to really dissect issues with others who are trying to make it a worthwhile experience. Clearly, this doesn’t just happen on our web page. Recently the Modesto Bee had to shut down a blogsite it created because comments got so out of control. Vicious comments ruin the experience for everybody. Finally, I think it only proves naysayers have made a valid point about technology destroying people’s ability to connect and interact with civility. They warn more people eventually will find it easier and more freeing to face screens instead of each other in society.

I strongly disagree. Basic human instinct drives us to connect, and that means in person. Consider “tweet-ups” – a phenomenon I first discovered locally.. People who connect via Twitter decide to meet face to face once a month to mingle. Another phenomenon I learned about via NPR: box truck meet-ups at which groups of people who met online meet after-hours in West Oakland and create a real-world community, if only temporarily. The pop culture trend is apparently growing!

Remember when the online world of Second Life was first invented in 2003? Critics warned people would naturally prefer to choose ideal avatars and interact only online in an ideal world of their making. Again, I never bought into that as an endgame. Even though it’s proved to be popular as a game, 8 years later people still seem to have a built-in need to see each others faces, read each other’s body language, even look into each other’s eyes and reach out and touch someone physically.

Today we are working through the growing pains of integrating our online and real-world interactions and communities. On my facebook page, I’ve only had one really negative “friend” I felt I had to boot for rude comments and behavior. I have that right – to control my own wall. The friends who do post there are polite, positive and respectful. There is a clearly set tone we all choose to abide by. When I’m facebooking for the station, I don’t have the power to block mean comments but I try to confront the commenters when I can. What seems to work best is when it’s not just me, but others in the community who jump in to help draw the line. It takes time and effort most of would rather not have to expend but it’s necessary.

So, no, I do not think social media is making our society more anti-social. There are individuals (the ModBee referred to them as trolls) who do spew vitriol. They may be emboldened by their online masks, but don’t we all know they exist in the real world too? We’ve learned some effective ways to set boundaries for them in the real world, and as an online society, by working together, we can set the rules here too. The power of the human spirit can transcend the downsides of technology.

(originally published on

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