Self-Regulation Online

“Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself.” ~ Elie Wiesel

Lately I seem to be hearing more people expressing their frustration about disrespect, rudeness and general mean-spiritedness in the online space. I wanted to tackle this arena of interactions, because as we know, the online space has become an inevitable part of our lives, especially for future generations.

I remember when Facebook first entered our awareness, where friends and likes became sought after arbitrary notions, often with/from people you didn’t know and never would. Fast forward to today, where I truly believe in the possibility of forming, and have even formed, real connections with the people I have ‘met’ online such as through Twitter.

I spend most of my social media time and energy on Twitter, except for blogging, which ends up not being as interactive for me, but for other blogging communities such as mommy bloggers, can be quite interactive. Instagram also has a very interactive platform with images and stories. Facebook, despite losing some momentum, still remains a dominant force too.

Back to our discussion, it is well known that people have a lot of courage balls behind an electronic device. This isn’t an invitation for people to present themselves differently than they would otherwise. My number one motto when it comes to professionalism online in the medical community is to not say anything on a public platform that you wouldn’t say in person – this is a generalizable concept.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see these social media platforms be used as a way to spread anger, hatred and a multitude of other distasteful aspects of the human condition. If you have ever seen a troll in action, you have probably lost all hope in humanity.

Even the well-known creator of Brain Pickings, Maria Popova, voiced her frustration this week about this online space where people think they have the right to say what ever they want:

I know we all see things on social media that make us roll our eyes, want to scream, shake our head – you get the picture – but a little self-regulation goes a long way. I can think of a few people that I follow on Twitter, who have quite a following beyond me, that I don’t always agree with either their methods or opinions. Are they harming anyone? Not from what I can tell. So why would I ever challenge their platform and reputation in order to impose my own beliefs and opinions?

So, should we all just sit back and not say anything for fear of some uncomfortable discussion, and not advocate for our profession and values? No, I think we have a right to our opinions, especially when backed by evidence. I think things get tricky when we openly question someone else’s authority, motives and beliefs online. If you have something say that would be more conducive to a private conversation, consider using Direct Messaging (DM), e-mail or contact forms.

Having said all this, certain opportunities do arise when some lively debate is warranted so that both sides of a topic can be discussed and heard. This can easily be done without disparaging remarks and profanities galore. Given that these types of online relationships and ways of communicating with one another are not going away, I believe that continuing this conversation around our behaviour on these social platforms is both worthwhile and needed.

In the end, we must remember that the energy we put out into the universe is what will come back to us – it’s basic human physics.


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