Where I come from in rural New York, car horns are more of a social device than a traffic tool. You honk at your friends to say hi, not at the car in front of you. Even if someone cuts you off, you probably don’t honk, because it might be your bank teller or your waiter or your cousin, and man, wouldn’t that make things awkward?
When I first went into a big city, though, things were very different. Every horn I heard, I’d look up out of instinct, but the honks weren’t friendly. Quite the contrary, in fact. The honking was vicious, unrelenting. And you know what? Now that I’ve lived in big cities for a few years, I’m the one doing the honking or giving the stink eye to cars that ease into the crosswalk when I’m on foot. I’m the vindictive one. Why? Because who cares? These people aren’t my friends or neighbors. If they get upset with me, I’ll never know.
This is kind of how it’s like on the Internet, the biggest city that anyone can get to in seconds flat from just about anywhere in the world. It’s packed full of people, so you can post whatever you want, because you’re anonymous and anyone who you upset can easily be ignored. In fact, the Internet is a win-win situation. Not only do you do you avoid the people you upset; you get great positive reinforcement in the form of likes and favorites and retweets.
That’s what Jenna Wortham’s article for the New York Times, “Facebook Made Me Do It,” is all about. The I’m-just-a-stranger-in-a-giant-crowd mentality of being online makes it easier to act out, and the potential for a huge audience makes people who post controversial things to their social media accounts feel powerful. But this isn’t to say that social media is to blame. No, both Coye Cheshire (a professor of information sciences at the University of California, Berkeley) and Geoff Manaugh (a blogger who was recently named editor in chief of the popular tech blog Gizmodo) both say that social media only enables, not creates, people who enjoy this kind of attention.
Manaugh also calls this type of behavior by its true name: “stupidity.” Trolling and posting obscene content is stupid. And it is especially stupid when it has to do with your place at work.
Look, venting is important. After all, even the best jobs in the world can be frustrating and even the best bosses can have their off days. But if you want to vent, text your friend, meet up at a bar, have a beer, and chat. Don’t post to Twitter. Don’t post to Facebook. Or at the very least, make sure that stuff is locked. Not because doing so can get you fired. It actually can’t.
But here’s the thing, saying negative stuff about work sure isn’t going to make you any friends in the company. And without anyone who has your back, you’re going to have a harder time getting your work done, which is going to make work even worse. Not to mention, while a company can’t fire you for your social media posts, they can fire you for a variety of things that they might have overlooked had you kept your negative opinions to yourself.
Basically, posting online is like honking your horn. The Internet may seem like a big city, but all it takes is one coworker or manager knowing your Twitter handle to turn it into a small town, and as I explained above, you only honk at good things in a small town.