Social Media; what’s it for?
Talking to your friends?
Arguing with your enemies?
Persuading other people that your view is right?
Causing pain to those you hate?
Surely it could be for so much more?

Playground semantics rule the sites,
Bullying so much more subtle,
Gas lighting and manipulation common,
Cliques form and break up,
Friendships lost for lack of body language,
Words causing more pain than fist fights.

Trolls prowl for public posting,
Looking for a weakness,
Exploiting sensitivities,
Setting friend against friend,
Laughing at their own malevolence,
Burning the discussions like unwatched toasting.

What is Social Media for?
It is what you make it,
You let the words affect you,
You let the hurt inside,
You have the power to change it,
You have the chance to soar.

***********

I wrote the piece above as a reminder to myself.

I’m better than most ASD people at reading body language, but on social media that advantage is removed (unless it’s a video post) and because it leaves only the words to be interpretated, it can be difficult to decide what the poster means.

I take a lot of things literally — it’s taken me a long while to be able to discern satire and sarcasm in social media posts (oh for an obvious Sarcasm font!) and I’ve often taken offence at comments that were never written to be agressive or offensive.

One of my main traits, the inability to do anything other than speak my mind, has led to a lot of people getting upset at me in turn. It happens in person as well, but less often because I have the body language to cue me. Other people cannot believe that I am being as honest as I am and often seem to think that I am being deliberately sarcastic or downright nasty, despite how carefully I choose my words.

It’s led to my habit of lurking on threads and in groups until I can guage the people on there and how honest I can be. In person, I stay quiet and listen a lot for the same reason.

I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not the only person on the Internet that is allowing their real self to be shown — I think most people use the anonymity that the Cyber World gives you, to let their real character show in a way that they wouldn’t in the Real World.

Of course there is the flip side of that; the people who use the Cyber World to hide their real selves, to be who they wish they were… and that can be good as well, bolstering confidence and making them feel better about themselves in the Real World — you just run into problems when you meet someone from the Cyber World in the Real World!

Social Media, like any other tool, can be a force for good — raising money for charity, keeping in touch with the family and friends that you love, organising get togethers in the Real World, empowering those who are isolated in some way. It can be useful — getting the word out about special events, selling products via word of mouth and connecting with people in the same business.

It can also be a force for evil.

I’ve lost track of the number of stories I’ve seen of people who have had their lives destroyed because someone decided that they didn’t like what that person was doing. I’ve heard of teenagers and adults driven to suicide because the trolls that inhabit the nastier reaches of the net have decided that they shouldn’t live.

I’ve seen threads degenerate from useful discussions into slanging matches because a troll has manipulated it for their own pleasure. I’ve experienced sexism, had my intelligence insulted and beliefs degraded because someone’s world view is different to mine and they won’t believe that any other world view is correct.

So much of our world now revolves around Social Media that I feel that kids should be taught in school about how to handle themselves online and how to react to the nastiness that inhabits it.

When I was a child, I was told to run away from Bullies, to ignore catcalls and to stay quiet and not provoke attack. That doesn’t work in the Cyber World — if a troll wants to find you, they can track you down and attack you from all sides; there is nowhere to hide…

So you have to learn to deal with it. You learn when to scroll past and when to get involved; you learn to choose your battles wisely and how fast to back off if you need to.

You learn when to take a break from the whole whirling mass of information and emotion — for someone with ASD, Social Media is often as disturbing as it is useful. It can be a sensory nightmare, especially when you’re on the verge of a meltdown or are ill. Or that’s how I experience it anyway.

So the piece was a reminder to treat the internet carefully; to think about what I post and how I word it. To not take everything and everyone at face value and to research information before I post it.

(Poem first published on Facebook / Whole article first published on Medium)

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