I have a love hate relationship with social media.  

I keep in touch with friends and family on Facebook, using it as a place where we check in with each other's lives in a way that we wouldn't if we didn't have our connections on Facebook.  Without doubt, the circle of people whose lives I felt involved in would be smaller if it weren't for Facebook.

I use LinkedIn for work.  I post stuff about leadership, mental health awareness in the workplace and the need for further LGBTQ+ inclusion.  I have a fair number of followers on LinkedIn, and it slots nicely into my professional life as a way to get my thoughts on leadership out into the wild and also as a good tool to find candidates for open roles in my team.

I've been on and off Twitter and - more recently - Instagram over the years, but have ultimately given up on them.  I don't really know anyone I'm interacting with, and all those people I do know are on Facebook or LinkedIn anyway...

I have never subscribed to the idea that social media is killing our ability to interact with each other, and find that Facebook especially is somewhere that I feel comfortable interacting with people and can keep up some social contact even when I am not up to doing that in person.

But even Facebook has a seam of negativity running through it.  People sometimes feel that have to say something in response to a post, and don't seem satisfied with pressing one of the various reaction buttons available under the post; there seems to be a desire to type and say something in words.   It seems that so many of these comments are negative.  Even if they aren't explicitly negative, they can have the effect of bringing me down, and killing the joy expressed in my post or of making my sadness more intense.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot recently, and I started to talk to other people and realised I wasn't alone in thinking this way.  Although - in almost all cases - the negativity isn't the intent of the post - sometimes it just takes someone bursting our bubble to bring us down from a place where we were happy with an achievement or an experience in our life or just someone reveling in the misery to push us slightly further into our sadness.

And so, I've pulled together a list of the types of negative commentary which get me down and - according to the conversations I've had - get my friends down too.   If you believe, as I do, that social media can be a positive place for us to raise each other up, then maybe reflect on these and see if you do any of them.  Even if you don't mean negative intent, you may not realise the impact that these comments are having on other people...

So let's kick it off with an obvious one:

Short, sharp negativity

A while ago, an artist I like released some new music after a long break.  I posted on Facebook how happy I was to hear their new single, and someone replied with the single word "Nah".  No opinions, no commentary.  Just "Nah".  

It's fine to disagree with someone's musical taste, and it's fine to disagree with someone's taste in any subject, but I find not subtlety in decrying this kind of negative comment.  A short, sharp negative comment will bring someone down.  And for what purpose?  You're not sparking a discussion, you're not entering into debate, you're simply telling someone - with no context - that their subjective opinion is wrong.

"No" is a powerful word, and whilst it has its rightful place in asserting control over our lives it does not have a rightful place as a tool to puncture the happiness and enjoyment of others.  

If the only thing you can think of to say in response to someone is the single word "No" then I respectfully suggest you shouldn't say anything at all.

Instead of just saying "No", consider saying  nothing at all.

That thing you said you liked.  Well I don't like it.

A more subtle version of the "No" comment is the comment which counters a positive subjective opinion with a negative one.  

A friend of mine recently took a day off work to watch a film series back-to-back that she loves.  She posted about it online, and had a few comments from people who didn't like the film series telling her that she was "wrong" for taking the day off work to watch it.

We all find our joy in different places and in different ways.  I love my coffee sweet and milky as Hell - the closer to coffee cake in liquid form the better - whereas some people like a dark, strong espresso.  Neither of us is wrong, we simply have subjective views of what's right for us.

There's a difference between expressing a subjective view and telling someone else that they are wrong in their subjective view.   And telling someone they are wrong in their subjective view will ruin their joy.  They are as allowed to like this thing just as you are allowed not to like it.

If someone had just bought a new outfit, and whilst they were wearing it, you told them you didn't like it, you'd stand a decent chance of ruining their day.  Expressing your views on line is no different.  If someone likes something you don't, then that's cool.  In saying they enjoy something, they are not judging you for not enjoying it, so there's nothing to reciprocate against.  

It's entirely possible to celebrate someone's joy in doing something which they enjoy but which you wouldn't enjoy.  And if you can't celebrate their joy, then just consider just moving on without saying anything.

Instead of telling someone they are wrong for liking something, consider just pressing the "Like" button and moving on.

Poking fun at someone's joy

Sharing joy is something that doesn't come easy to everyone.  When someone shares something which makes them happy, the reaction of some people is to make a comment - usually under the pretense of making a joke - which pokes fun at the thing making them happy.

Banter is a word which has got a bad reputation these days, mostly because of its use as a cover word for inappropriate comments.  But banter in its pure form exists between friends.  A comment between friends may appear to be negative to the outsider, but within the context of a close friendship, it may be the way that people build each other up.  The same comment from someone outside of that friendship, deprived of the context, would simply be a negative comment and not have the same effect.

From a personal point of view, someone has to be a very close friend in order to engage in this banter with me.  Someone outside of that context making the same comment would be perceived solely negatively.

Whilst a small comment to you may be in jest, it may not come across that way to the other person.  So and so unless you are completely, totally sure that your little joke is going to come across positively to the recipient, then best not make it at all.

Instead of bantering with someone, consider just pressing the "Like" button and moving on.

I expected more of you

Whenever we buy something, there's always a more expensive, more luxurious or trendier option we could've opted for.  Whenever we achieve something, there's always more than we could've achieved.  Life doesn't operate by scoring 100% on every test.

As a child, I was relatively academic at school, and I remember once feeling happy having scored 98 our of 100 in a test at school.  The reaction from someone at home was to skip past the recognition for having done well, and focus on the 2 questions I'd got wrong and understanding why I had got them wrong.

You may see that as a way to strive for improvement, but I'd say the recognition of the success should come before the analysis of the failure to achieve perfection, however you believe in motivating people to strive for more.

If someone posts about their fastest 5km time on Facebook, there's really no need to tell them they could've done it faster.  Support them in what they have achieved and support them when they go on to achieve more.  You're not their athletics coach, and it's not your place to point out what more they could've done.  The best thing you can do to help them achieve more is to support their current achievement.

Instead of asking about the questions someone got wrong, talk about the things they got right and maybe say "Well done!" or "That's great".  Or, you know, just press the "Like" button and move on.

Playing top trumps 

After we moved to a house in the countryside, we spotted a deer in the garden for the first time.  For someone who's lived in suburbia and - well - "urbia" proper it was quite something to see a little muntjac wandering across the lawn just outside the window.

Of course I posted it on Facebook, wanting to share my joy with people.  A friend who also lives in the countryside immediately countered by telling me that she has loads of them outside her window all the time.

There was no malintent on her part, of course, but she had trumped my joy with something more.  Immediately, the one muntjac on the lawn didn't feel like a thing to be joyful about.    Life is not a competition and there is no need to outdo anyone who posts anything online.  

You may have seen twenty deer on your lawn and someone else may have seen forty.  All of these experiences can be joyful and there's no need to compare them.

If you have also experienced the thing bringing someone joy, or something close to it, then you can build them up by sharing your joy, but be mindful not to say that you experienced more or that you experienced it better, sooner or more deeply.  Support the joy and move on, without the need to compete.

Instead of saying "We had twenty deer in the garden!" try saying "We sometimes have deer in the garden too, it's really cool isn't it?"

Opening the door to misery

About 12 years ago, my Dad died.  It was a sad event, of course it was, and I was dealing with it in my own way.  A week or so later, I posted something on Facebook about enjoying myself a few days before the funeral, and received a private message from someone telling me they thought it was too soon for me to posting positive messages on Facebook and a public comment from someone telling me how nice it was to see me having fun, with the implication definitely on the sad event that happened not long before.

Less dramatically, after posting on Facebook that I suffer from anxiety, someone followed up a post I made about a day out by telling me that they are happy the day didn't make me anxious.

Everyone's life is full of sadness and happiness.  They happen every day in small and large ways and at any point in our life we can likely reflect on both happy and sad things.

If someone is placing focus on the happy events in their life, then there's really no need to bring the sad events into the picture.  They likely haven't forgotten the sad events; they are likely just spending time concentrating on the happy events to bring balance or perspective to their life.  Or simply as a break from the sadness of a bereavement or the battle with anxiety.

Pulling the focus back to the negative will only seek to bring it back to someone's mind when they had evidently put it from their mind briefly.  It's best to avoid mentioning sadness and upset unless someone else does.  It doesn't mean that you or they have forgotten about it;  it just means that for now, we're staying in the positive.

Instead of  bringing up the sadness, try just pressing the "Like" button.

Building a bridge to your own sadness

When you are feeling sadness, it's often hard to support others in their joy.  That is the nature of sadness and it's sure-as-Hell the nature of depression.  But if you bridge your sadness to someone else's joy, then that will have an impact on them, which will be to bring them down rather than lift you up.

Someone else's joy may make you feel inadequate in your own life, or it may make you feel sad that you aren't experiencing the same thing.  But that's not their fault, and there is nothing to be gained by sharing that negativity with them in their moment of joy.

A friend who you support in their joy and sadness will also be there to support you in your sadness and you own joy, but right now they are in their own joyful place and it's not the time to ask them to focus on your sadness.

No matter how you are feeling, you should support your friends in their joy if you can.  And if you can't, then avoid tying their joy to your sadness.  Friendship is hard, and takes work and patience, and this is the time to put in that hard work and accept that now isn't the time to bring the focus to yourself.

Talking about sadness is important to some people, and if you need to do that, then reach out to someone, even that same someone.  But do it separately.  In a different medium.  On a different day.  The key is not to bring your sadness in the conversation about their joy, but to keep the two separate.

Instead of bringing up your own sadness, try saying nothing and reaching out to the person at a different time in a different way to ask for their support.

Rolling in the misery

Sometimes it's not about bringing someone down from a place of joy, but about how we can help someone to stay longer in their sadness.  Sometimes a good release for the sadness we feel is to share it.  There's no shame in sharing sadness and of inviting others to help lift us out of it.

But sometimes people help us to stay in the sadness by exploring it.  

Recently, we had a long power cut whilst away from home, and it resulted in my losing a lot of tropical fish from my pond in the greenhouse.  It was immensely sad for me to lose generations of fish, and I was happy to feel the sadness and move on.  And yet, people were reaching out to me to ask for details.  They wanted to know what I'd seen, what I'd felt and exactly what happened.

If someone is feeling sadness, it is up to them whether they want to share more, and opening the door to sharing is a great way to support someone.  Forcing them to talk about the source of their sadness is not.  If someone wants you to share in their sadness for a time, and you are willing to do so, then offer that and allow them to make the first move. 

If someone says they don't want to talk about what's making them sad, then respect that.

Instead of asking for more details about the sadness, ask "Are you OK?" or "Can I do anything to help?"

After-the-fact prevention

Whenever something happens which makes us sad, we could usually have used hindsight to do something about it.

I once deleted an important file I'd been working on for ages.  Of course, this was in the days before all my files lived online.  I shared my sadness, and was greeted with the question - "Didn't you back it up?"

Of course, the answer to the literal question is "no, otherwise I wouldn't have lost the file" but that's not what the person is really saying.  What they are saying is "if you had done something better, then this wouldn't have happened to you".  

Nothing is achieved by reminding someone that they made a mistake which led to something sad happening to them.  

Advice is something best given only when requested.  A request for advice is a signal that the door is open to receiving it.  It's for the recipient of the advice to decide when is best for them to receive it, and that's something to be respected.

In any case, in the aftermath of something upsetting happening, when a person is feeling sadness, is definitely not the best time to receive advice.  So instead of giving the advice, save it; you'll have it ready for if it's asked for.

Instead of offering advice, try saying nothing or saying "Sorry to hear about that".  Keep the advice for later - or never.

Passive aggressive general grumbling

You know the kind of thing.  You say you visited somewhere and someone says "Oh I'm sure you enjoyed it".  Or you share your views of an artist you admire and someone says "They are good at what they do".

There's no explicit negativity, but there's a reluctance to join in the joy.  More so than that, there's a small poke at the bubble of joy.  Not necessarily enough to burst it, but just enough to remind you that it's fragile.

There is no need to tinge your words with negativity.  There is no weakness is sharing in someone's joy, even if you don't share that particular joy yourself.

Catch yourself.  Think about what you're saying and whether it could be perceived negatively.  If it could, then don't say it!

Do you really need an alternative on this one?  Just don't do it.  Try saying nothing at all.

In writing these, I realise that some people may be thinking this is more about my own insecurity than it is about those making the comments.  Of course, that's true.  I am writing this from my own point of view, and of course I'm sensitive to these things.

But my point is that we can be respectful of the sensitivities of others.  It's part of friendship that we respect how and when someone else wants to be communicated with and change our own behaviour to match.  It's far too easy to throw our negativity into the world, claiming there's enough out there already and that if people don't like it, they can just ignore it.  

Doing that doesn't make you a nice person.  It doesn't make you a positive force in someone's life.  It makes you a bit of a *&!% in my book.

I am trying to be a positive force in people's lives.  I am trying to lift people up rather than put them down.  I fail at my own rules, I reflect and I do better next time.  If everyone did the same that social media - and frankly life in general - would be a much nicer place to be!

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