Social media – how far is too far?

I saw something on Facebook this morning that really made me sit back and think. I have quite a few “friendly acquaintances” on Facebook. For the purpose of this blog, I will call them “pals.” These are people I have met and like, but that I don’t connect with very much in the real world. Some I met through work, others from my personal life. Many of them I met while travelling.

I don’t hold the same political views as some of them. I have to admit, I have found some of the discussions and ideas put forward by a some of my “pals” a little worrisome. Especially when it comes to politics – specifically in the U.S. There are some very personal attacks on politicians happening these days – on both the Democratic and Republican sides. We’re seeing a little of it here in Canada but not to the degree that it happens in the U.S.

Disagreeing with a candidate’s platform and what they choose to support and not support is one thing, but there are some nasty, nasty rumours and lies that are put forward sometimes. I am not always comfortable seeing the opinions that appear on the status updates of people on my Facebook page. But I do realize that it is important to stay connected and to listen to viewpoints that are unlike your own, especially ones that you have a visceral reaction to. You don’t have to agree, understand or even respect the opinion, but I believe you should respect their right to have their own opinion. For me, it’s a good practice to be open to listening to a range of viewpoints and to try to understand why they might think or feel so differently than I do.

This morning, I saw an update that contained the content of an update about President Obama that was incredibly nasty. Among other things, it said that the President won’t let his dog Bo travel with him in Air Force One because of Muslim beliefs and that it was costing tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I could feel my blood pressure and anger rising as I read the update and was a little shocked that someone would put that up. The information is just plain ridiculous and—to me—so shockingly unbelievable that I don’t understand how anyone would think it is true. However, it is making the rounds out there online and people seem to believe it.

That made me think about the extreme factions – in this case, political ones. There is a very fine line between getting people all riled up and engaged and going too far and losing your credibility and support. I think that we have all “gone too far” at some point in either our professional or personal lives. Pushed our agenda too hard and with too much vigor so that we lose sight of the overall goal or objective. And I think it is a surprising fine line that we all need to be very aware of between being passionate and committed, and becoming a zealot where the truth no longer matters and the end justifies the means.

As communicators, it is our role to make sure that our outreach stays on this side of the line and is transparent, authentic and truthful. Without those, there can be no trust. And without trust, there can be no long-term success.

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