A good friend of mine and I have lamented for years Social Networking Sites like My Space and Facebook because they help teach adolescence the wrong lessons. Social Networking Sites give people the false impression that postings on them are only for the select few when in reality colleges, employers, potential employers, and people intent on doing others harm–the Iago’s of the world–also visit these sites and share them with people who aren’t interested in being helpful. I won’t spend time here cataloguing all the wrongs of posting one’s entire life on these spaces; instead, I would like to present this crystal clear example of what is wrong with these sites.
An employee of The Philadelphia Eagles, Dan Leone, read that the Eagles traded Brian Dawkins, one of his favorite players, to the Denver Broncos. Angered by the move, Dan Leone posted on his Facebook page: “Dan is [expletive] devastated about Dawkins signing with Denver … Dam Eagles R Retarted!!” The Eagles read his posting, telephoned him and fired him. A moment of anger turned into a pink slip because he decided to share this information with the world, not with a friend. We have to remember that everything posted is potential news for your local newspaper: if you don’t want to read about it (or anyone else to read about it) in the Cleveland Plain Dealer or the Boston Globe or the Philadelphia Inquirer, don’t post it on Facebook or My Space. It’s that simple.
Of course, these sites are here to stay and working to rid the world of them or even minimize their impact is as quixotic an idea as my winning American Idol–I mean, really, have you heard me sing?–but that doesn’t mean that we cannot look to educate our students and remind them that one ill-place photograph, comment, or emoticon may give the wrong impressions, stir anger, cause resentment, hurt someone, sully one’s reputation, alter one’s plans, or cause irrevocable harm. Dan has every right to be disappointed and angry, but to share those emotions in such a public space–the equivalent of Times Square’s famous electronic billboards–has taken him from inside the bird’s nest to outside in a matter of minutes. I don’t think that was his intent.
People who post on My Space and Facebook (and even we intrepid souls who blog) must remember that our postings have both intent and impact. As an English teacher frustrated that I cannot come up with the perfect word, I have often lamented that words are such a poor way to communicate, but at least when they are expressed in person, we can see and respond to other stimuli, such as facial expressions and physical clues given by our fellow communicator. Emailing and posting materials fail to give the whole picture, so we are often left to interpret what is said or meant; an often exhausting experience. When communicating with someone the intent may be to chaff gently, but the impact, particularly when conveyed via emails and Internet posts, may be to wound deeply. Unfortunately Dan has learned that lesson the hard way. Let’s work to make sure our students and children understand the real dangers that sharing one’s life so openly can cause.