Responsible Writing for Social Media and the Internet

Many people, when they Tweet their maximum 144 characters, post a note on Facebook, or wing off an email, may not consider themselves to be writing, yet writing is what they are doing. Sitting at your computer, with your iPad, iPhone or other device it is easy to forget you are not isolated in your bubble of one but ‘speaking’ to a potentially mass audience across the globe. Does that matter? Should it matter? Should we be held responsible for what we write? As writers, in whatever form, should we adhere to some sort of ethical or moral code, or do we have ‘poetic license’ to say whatever we want?

Going back in history, books have been banned for their content, writers have been attacked and threatened, yet people continue to write. “The pen is mightier than the sword” so the saying goes but should we wield it carefully?

Creative writing has many genres; romance, crime, horror, to name but a few. Some is hard to read because we fear that life could truly be that grim or because it leaves us uncomfortable. Rarely, though, would writing today be rejected on this basis. It is an accepted fact that readers have different tastes and can consume murder, or violent crime, or horror without wishing to emulate it in ‘real’ life. We may enjoy the escape of romance yet know that our own life is inevitably different to that fantasy.

So what makes these “write bites” on social media so offensive; those hateful and hurtful comments addressed to someone in particular or a specific group of people in general? Is the jibe justifiable in the same way as the evil character playing out despicable acts in a novel? The simple answer, for me, is NO. I do think we should be responsible in what we write and I don’t think we should deliberately set out to hurt others.

In my previous work role, people would sometimes ask my thoughts on social media and how to ‘handle’ it in terms of their customers and those they worked alongside. I used to ask them to think carefully about how they used social media both personally and professionally, bearing in mind it can leave you much more exposed, for instance, than writing one letter to one person.

I asked people to think, when they used social media, about those words being painted large on the front of their home; would they feel comfortable with what they’d said, would they change anything? The aim, albeit in imagination, was to bring them from behind their computer/ device and face their words and the person/ people they were saying them to. This can help us to remember that ‘big wide world’ we are addressing but, also, to prick our conscience, that part of us that self moderates. Creative writers do many, many drafts and edits before they reach their goal; tweeters and bloggers can learn from this, remembering the art of the draft and edit. I have many, many times written a letter or email I have no intention of sending; it is my ‘sounding off’ draft before I look at it with a cool head and a chance for reflection, rather than firing it gun like into the ether without considering who the bullet may impact.

It is true to say that our words can hurt even if that isn’t our intention, that meaning may be lost, warmth not conveyed adequately or a joke not recognised. The difference is intent. If you look at the spiked, barb-like comments on social media, the intent is laid bare, the meaning clear. That is different; it is unkind and unnecessary. It is also cowardly – you don’t have to confront that person with your words, you (generally) don’t have to face any consequences.

So, yes, we should be responsible writers, we should mind how our words impact upon others. I am not advocating a ‘twee’ world that is permanently warm and fluffy but one with a moral code, a social conscience and consideration for others. Is that so much to ask?

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