Words Matter | Use them carefully

I am noticing a trend online lately, and it is honestly a bit disturbing. When did it become acceptable to use social media as a space to treat people as our own personal verbal punching bags?

2020 has been a crazy year so far. In just the first month alone, Australia was burning to the ground at an unmeasurable rate of speed, an Iranian General was killed in a drone strike, a passenger plane crashed killing 176 people, an impeachment trial was started against our president, a helicopter crashed killing Kobe Bryant, his daughter, their friends and the pilot and the United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union. Oh right and this little thing called COVID-19 started making its way around the world. That was month one.

I think we can agree things have only gone further downhill since then. A virus that many expected to last a couple weeks and go away, is showing no signs of slowing down eight months later. Many here in the United States and around the world have lost their lives, entire households are unemployed and food insecurity is at an all time high. I am not even going to delve into the upcoming dumpster fire of an election and the ongoing homeschool debate. With everything that is going on locally and around the world, it only makes sense that emotions are running a bit high right now.

That being said, at what point did everyone decide to stop being polite and respectful to their own friends, family and random people they decided to connect with on social media, and more importantly how do we get out of this cycle of anger, judgement and hatred?

At least once a day, I see a lengthy angry rant appear on Facebook. Being a rant, it’s never a well thought out sentiment making valid points, rather a rushed jumbled mess of judgy incoherent thoughts and curse words, clearly intended to blow off some steam, but also clearly calling out those making choices they don’t agree with and in the most passive aggressive manner possible.

Most if not all of these rants stem from the regulations surrounding COVID-19 and what individuals are or are not supposed to be doing to prevent it from spreading further.

Depending on where you live, these regulations have likely been drilled into your head for months now. No large group gatherings, travel to other states may be restricted and of course wear your masks and wash your hands. 

Some people have chosen to follow these regulations more closely than others, and as the months have passed by, following the guidelines has clearly gotten more and more lax.

People are traveling out of the area to get away from the now jail-like cells that their homes have become after spending months on end in them, with no real outside entertainment. 

People are throwing parties, many times with little to no social distancing or masks. 

People are dining out at restaurants and shopping in malls again. 

Weddings that have been planned sometimes a year or more in advance are occurring again, albeit in smaller less extravagant celebrations. 

We all see the posts every week with photos of group dinners, birthday parties, vacations down the shore. We see the group photos of numerous people who do not live together all squished together and not a single person wearing a mask.

For many this is their way of gaining back some semblance of a normal life. For others this lack of rule following is creating levels of rage and anger that they seemingly only know how to express via massive, finger pointing rants or by starting heated arguments with total strangers on social media.

This new expression of anger isn’t just happening on rants though. I have had to hide the majority of the running groups I belong to on Facebook. What were once enjoyable environments to discuss running, have become filled with nothing but rude, snarky comments from people who all think their opinion is the only opinion, and they have free reign to berate anyone who disagrees with them. 

Something so simple as a local gentleman asking for face mask recommendations for running, got so heated with opinions on how “stupid” and “unhealthy” it is to wear a mask while exercising, the post was eventually deleted by the admins.

Don’t mind the fact that regulations require trail users in Philadelphia to wear facemasks, as it is physically impossible to remain socially distanced with the number of people using them currently. In the close to 500 comments made before deletion, only a small handful of people had actually offered mask suggestions. The rest were angry, hostile, opinions.

People have also become more blasé when it comes to voicing these opinions to strangers or even asking questions about intimate personal details from public accounts they follow.

I follow a number of people (or animals via their humans) on instagram who have a large following. By large, I am talking hundreds of thousands of followers. 

These people choose to share details of their life that most would not even think of, all for the entertainment value for their fans, and eventually some extra money for product advertisement. Sadly many of these accounts barely share anymore due to the out of control rude comments and opinions followers throw their way daily.

Last week, a follower asked a woman who runs an instagram account sharing the story of her rescued pup, how she and her husband have sex with the dog constantly wanting her husbands attention. 

Like, what!?! 

At what point did asking such a question to a complete stranger on the internet become acceptable? Yet, I see personal questions such as this being asked ALL. THE. TIME.

I also see people attacking zoos on a regular basis, like fully accredited zoos, yelling at them about how animals should be fed, handled, cared for, etc. because they suddenly have better knowledge than the very well trained zoo keepers who work with the animals daily. 

I honestly just don’t get it. It needs to stop though. All of it needs to stop. The passive aggressive rants, the unnecessary arguments over the dumbest of things, the inappropriate questions, the unsolicited opinions and for sure the constant public judgement of others when they choose to do things differently than you do.

The words you use online when you post these rants or start these arguments, shaming your friends and loved ones for making choices different than your own, are hurtful. 

You may feel better for the time being, but at what cost? How many relationships are you destroying in the process for a few minutes of your own contentment?

The words “Do you really think I give a shit what you think?” stood out to me the other day on one of these posts. It was directed at a complete stranger, by someone who was clearly having a bad day, and decided to start an argument on what was otherwise a calm and humorous post.

How did we get to this place where we are so angry at everyone and everything, that this is our new social norm?

This year has sucked for everyone, and we still have just shy of four more months to go until we all attempt to blow our New Year’s horns through our homemade fabric masks and ring in the New Year six feet apart. 

Let’s try and spend these next four months being a little nicer and a little less judgmental/opinionated, when someone chooses to handle something differently than you would.

You may not remember your angry words months down the line, but I can assure you the person you directed them at will, and they may not be so forgiving next time you speak. Words matter. Use them carefully.