Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about people’s online presence and behaviour more than usual.
I have listened to two podcasts about online trolls, both of which were disturbing (Conversations’ Life After Troll Hunting and Finding Fearless). I have also watched social media implode with fear about the COVID-19 virus. And I have also been asked to give some advice to a group of online business-women about some current litigation around misrepresentations made online and solicitation.
All these issues are related, I think, because we seem to behave differently online than we would IRL (in real life).
But online these days IS REAL LIFE.
We can no longer separate our online self from our off-line self. Hence, I strongly believe that we need to behave online in the same way that we would off-line. Your online presence should be synonymous with your real personality.
In relation to the trolls, particularly ordinary people who just get themselves so angry, and then jump online in that state and actually PUT SOMETHING IN WRITING. Let alone attacking someone with horrible name calling and threats. Some of these ordinary people are very highly educated and well-respected in their fields. Yet somehow they justify acting in this way online.
I teach my young lawyers: pause before you put anything in writing. Either in correspondence, or email. But this really applies to anyone that can write something straight online while they aren’t thinking clearly.
It also seems that the online space, particularly social media, can amplify your emotions. Yet, prior to social media, we had some space to be able to breath and release that emotion. Now, it’s too easy to feed and amplify the anger and fear, and then post something from that emotional space.
In relation to the fear around COVID-19, I have been sitting back and observing the media’s reaction, and the reaction on social media. Many people in my bubble are all preaching calm and rationality, and yet there are many who have hyped themselves up into a crazed state. Posting onto social media while you’re fearful will feed someone else’s fear. Don’t do it.
It’s like my mother used to say: “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. Hence, no social post is better than anything related to fear.
Finally, the behaviour of people in business online can sometimes blow my mind. Most posts on social media are not anonymous, and the same laws apply to defamation and misrepresentations online as they do in any other advertising. Hence, if you say something that damages another person’s business, there can be consequences. Even to the extent that what you post is illegal.
There are consequences for your behaviour online, just like IRL. There are financial and legal consequences. We are going to be less and less tolerant of poor behaviour online moving forward than we have in the past. Law enforcement is certainly catching up, and businesses certainly know the importance and damage that social influences can have.
Be aware of your presence and behaviour online. Please, behave with the same integrity and thoughtfulness that you do off-line and IRL.