THE great advantage of social media is its immediacy. And the great disadvantage of social media is its immediacy.
Social media has sped our lives to a dizzying pace, giving us access to information from across the world at the very moment it happens.
News from the far corners of the globe is at our fingertips in a way that would have been considered science fiction only a decade or two ago.
But as we rush from piece of information to piece of information, are we also increasingly rushing to judgement?
When this newspaper posted links on Facebook to stories on the Central Western Daily website about the Orange council elections before and after we went to the polls, we did so hoping to spark discussion and debate.
The conversations that many of these stories and letters started on the Facebook page, however, quickly broke the boundaries of civility.
From inflammatory and provocative, comments degenerated into nasty, offensive and, finally, downright irresponsible.
It quickly became obvious that some of those commenting clearly had not read more than the first paragraph of the story.
Others had decided to willfully misrepresent the story to stoke anger and stir up an online shouting match.
Some clearly had a political axe to grind and were looking to take advantage of any opportunity – even those far removed from their sphere of relevance – to make their point.
If you were looking for an example of the combustible nature of social media – what happens when you mix immediacy and keyboard anonymity and a lack of civility – you couldn’t get much better.
And yet what was achieved by all this sound and fury? What did those shouting and insulting hope would be the result? It was an ugly explosion of anger that flared briefly and, once the post was removed, disappeared into cyberspace. What was the point?
It would be a shame if, as our methods of communication change, we find ourselves forgetting how to have a normal discussion. We must remember that conversations, even those in the digital world, are a two-way street, and we need to be prepared to listen.
We’ve gained so much with the rise of social media. Let’s hope we don’t lose so much as well.