We are all very fond of gossiping about what everybody else is up to and how they live their lives. This isn’t new – nosey neighbours have been slagging off the colour of their nearest and not-so-dearest’s net curtains for decades, but now it is so much easier to stick your oar in.
Ever since the very first messageboard opened and newspapers appended that dreadful/amazing “Add comment” feature, we’ve been waxing loud and proud about what everyone else should be doing in a very vague, annoying way. And that’s fine, really.
Social media, however, is different because when it comes to people we know, we don’t really say what we mean. Sure, we will bitch to friends or on Twitter about the stupid stuff people do on social media – photographing lunches, posting endless inspirational quotes, ripping off old memes and passing them off as their own – but rarely do we tackle the offender head on.
Why? Well, it simply wouldn’t do. While commenting on things from a distance is fine, calling somebody out directly for curating their social media in an irritating manner would be bad form. And quite right too.
An anonymous group of mums in Australia have ripped up this unwritten rule book, however, putting poison pen to paper to tell a fellow young parent that her constant baby updates were getting on their nerves. The letter (pictured below) was very direct – they were Australians after all – and extremely unkind and left its recipient reeling. Especially thanks to the lack of signature at the end of this malicious missive.
Big opinions, but no balls big enough to put their name to it. How would she know which of her friends she’d pushed over the edge? She wouldn’t, of course. The letter was made all the more powerful because Jade would never know who she’d ticked off – thus she would, by her detractor’s reckoning, have to temper her behaviour to everyone, just in case.
Thanks in part to a slew of Big Brother contestants or talk show participants who think arguing is as much a part of daily life as fake-tanning your legs or going to the shop for milk, there’s a whole generation of idiots parroting “If I’ve got something to say, I’ll say it to your face”.
It’s that empty, cheerless promise from somebody who thinks their opinion is too vital, too Earth-shattering to go unheard. They wear this bizarre form of confrontational honesty as a badge of honour. It seems they really do believe going up to somebody and telling them you hate them is a kindness and masquerading under the delusion that people actually like you is a fate worse than eviction in week one.
We are taught that saying exactly what we think is empowering and that we should speak our mind, but this is seriously flawed. It may be empowering and cathartic for the great big windbag who’s spouting forth, but for the person on the receiving end, it is demoralising, belittling.
This is not an exchange of power or a debate – it’s a hairdryer on full speed blasting at a snowflake.
We all joke about how terrible everyone else is on social media, perhaps not realising we are all as bad as each other. One man’s baby pic is another man’s livetweeting of a TV show. Endless shots of cupcakes drive me mad, while incessant plugs for blog posts or features (guilty!) probably make others want to rip the router out of the wall. We are all thirstier than ever.
Friends once joked to me (I hope) that sometimes they’d wonder if something they posted would make me roll my eyes and stopped themselves. Some pseudo-bullies would be proud of that, but I felt ashamed. Am I really stopping them – people I care about – expressing themselves? We think there’s a straightforward hierarchy, a linear scale of what’s bad and good, but we are wrong. Awful is in every corner.
We get to decide what we read, yes, but we don’t get to call the shots on what they post. The etiquette is to have a good old bitch and moan about everyone’s social media disasters, but not right out where they can see. Talking behind people’s backs is an underrated act – it’s the kindest thing to do.
You are not in Room 101, nobody’s making you watch. Hide them from your timeline, mute, defriend, unfollow, disconnect.
And then go take another picture of that latte – I’m sure it’s totally different from yesterday’s, right?