I like to tell myself that anger can’t always get the better of me. I like to imagine that I am level headed, that nothing can pierce through my self-proclaimed tough skin. So you can imagine my surprise when, after the Colombia-Brazil match about a month ago, I added a bit of an angry message based on the match’s outcome. I sarcastically accused Brazilian player Neymar of being an actor who fell down and then miraculously got up when the match ended. Even though I had posted it before finding out about the damage to his vertebrae (for which I am very sorry and wish him a speedy recovery), the damage was done. I had said something sarcastic (and now seen as less than tasteful), and it was out there in cyberspace for anyone and everyone to see.
So why did I post something that could be construed as mean, if I never wanted to do anyone harm (and much less have people call me out on it)? The main reason as to why the damage is done so quickly is related to the very reason so many of us are attracted to social media: it’s so immediate.We can reach our audiences instantly. Want to criticize Angelina Jolie’s dress at the Academy Awards? Tweet it. Want to pitch in your two cents about the latest SCOTUS ruling? Post a Facebook status about it. The beauty of being able to comment or react on anything immediately is both a boon and a bane.
For example, look at Justine Sacco, a former IAC employee who tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” The tweet was sent out, and while she was on her plane ride, unaware of the media firestorm her tweet caused, she was fired. Or take a more high profile example: Justin Bieber posted an Instagram of him and then-girlfriend Selena Gomez and promptly removed it from his profile ten minutes later. And yet, in those ten minutes, that image and caption was spread everywhere, and still it remains. Once something is out on the internet, it stays there – no matter what. But are teenagers unaware of this? Could it be that we are completely ignorant of the danger we can cause when we put something out there?
Not exactly. Teens (meaning up to the age of 25) are more prone to engage in risks. From a biological standpoint, when humans were our age, the only way to survive was to hunt dangerous animals, eat unknown plants, and travel to who-knew-where. We had to take those risks to survive, and it was an evolutionary trait that stuck. Nowadays, we teens seem to be prone to keep taking risks, especially when they are unknown, and what is more unknown and mysterious than the World Wide Web? Furthermore, it turns out that we are aware of the risks associated with many of our actions, but we value the outcome more than the risk to ourselves, which again links to the evolutionary trait we possess. So, often times, we might be aware we are hurting someone on the internet, but we go ahead and click that Send or Post button.
But how can this issue be handled? Sometimes we have to get out what we’re feeling, sometimes we want our audience to hear our immediate and maybe funny thoughts. Whatever the case, the first action needs to be to figure out if the thought may be construed as offensive or damaging. If not, go for it! If it could be, however, then take a hint from Abraham Lincoln. The infamous president had a good way to deal with bouts of anger: he would write a letter writing down all he felt towards the person, seal it in an envelope, and never send it. He didn’t stop himself from being angry, but rather allowed himself to experience the feeling and then let it go.
In other words, teens simply have to stop and think. Yes, go ahead and write that scathing post. Yes, pull up that questionable picture. But pause, just for a moment. Think, really think, if you want to go through with it. If you do want to, be prepared for the consequences. If not, figure out if you can tweak it or just not send it out at all. And what happens if it’s too late already? The answer is as simple asan apology. First off, follow Ben Franklin’s advice and don’t “ruin an apology with an excuse.” You’re already apologizing for doing wrong, and even if you try and give arguments for what you did, you still did wrong. Instead, see Jonah Hill’s apology for a recent slur:
“Just to give it some context, not excusing what I said in any way, this person had been following me around all day, had been saying hurtful things about my family, really hurtful things about me personally, and I played into exactly what he wanted and lost my cool. And in that moment, I said a disgusting word that does not at all reflect how I feel about any group of people.
I am not at all defending my choice of words, but I am happy to be the poster boy for thinking about what you say and how those words, even if you don’t intend them and how they mean, they are rooted in hate… I said the most hurtful word I could think of at that moment… I didn’t mean it in a homophobic way. I think that… that doesn’t matter, you know? How you mean things doesn’t matter. Words have weight in meaning. The word I chose was grotesque. No one deserves to say or hear words like that… I’m genuinely deeply sorry to anyone who has ever been affected by that term in their life. I’m sorry and I don’t deserve or expect your forgiveness.
But what I ask if… if someone says something that hurts you or angers you, use me an example of what not to do. And don’t respond with hatred or anger, because you’re just adding more ugliness to the world. Again, I’m so sorry.”
In other words, think before you act. If you can’t apologize, at least admit that you did wrong. No excuses, no removing an angry comment, just take it in stride. Comments and posts eventually disappear, but how people view you stays forever. It’s up to you to decide how you want to be seen.
Maresca, Rachel. “Justin Bieber Shares Cozy Instagram Picture with Ex Selena Gomez – Then Quickly Removes It.” NY Daily News. NYDailyNews, 12 June 2014. Web. 09 July 2014. <http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/justin-bieber-selena-gomez-cozy-new-instagram-photo-article-1.1826723>.
Niedermier, Brian. “An Unsent Letter.” Examiner.com. AXS Digital Group, 30 Dec. 2010. Web. 09 July 2014. <http://www.examiner.com/article/an-unsent-letter>.
O’Neil, Sean. “Jonah Hill Is on Arguably the Most Sincere Celebrity Apology Tour Ever.” The A.V. Club. Onion, 4 June 2014. Web. 09 July 2014. <http://www.avclub.com/article/jonah-hill-arguably-most-sincere-celebrity-apology-205384>.
Pilkington, Ed. “Justine Sacco, PR Executive Fired over Racist Tweet, ‘ashamed.'” Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 22 Dec. 2013. Web. 09 July 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/22/pr-exec-fired-racist-tweet-aids-africa-apology>.
Szalavitz, Maia. “Why the Teen Brain Is Drawn to Risk.” TIME.com. Time, 02 Oct. 2012. Web. 09 July 2014. <http://healthland.time.com/2012/10/02/why-the-teen-brain-is-drawn-to-risk/>.
Shination, Kooro. “Twitter 2.” Flickr: Creative Commons. Flickr, n.d. Web. 22 Aug. 2014. <https://flic.kr/p/eRooBr>.