If you are on social media then you are probably familiar with the idea of being able to “block” someone. The function is available on facebook and twitter. Blocking means that they can no longer see your messages or interact with you. On Twitter it means that you won’t initially see their tweets though you can still find them if you want.
The blocking option is actually useful for some contexts. I have used it specifically to block out spam and inappropriate content. I have also used it, I think just the once when someone targeted me with some particularly vile abuse. However, outside of a few specific, limited circumstances it is quite an aggressive way of responding to people. Indeed if you don’t want to see others’ content you have the option to unfollow and/or mute people and conversations.
So, why would people use the blocking mechanism? I’ve been blocked a couple of times on twitter. Most recently by a comedian -simply for having an opinion that one of his impressions was better than another one. Now, that’s hardly cutting edge heckling is it, but I though comedians were generally capable of responding to wit. I wonder what would have happened if I’d simply heckled -or in fact just gave polite feedback after the show, would I have been forcibly ejected. In that case, the comedian relies on satire and at times this can stoop into cruelty. He enjoys mocking others but cannot take a polite bit of feedback. I’ve also had people engage with something I’ve written on twitter and argue with me, getting ruder and more aggressive as they go along. As each wild claim they make gets refuted they become more antagonistic and then block. It’s the equivalent of having the last word in an argument, storming out and slamming the door behind you.
Now, I wish I could say that it is only non-Christians that do that. However, I’ve seen Christians block and get blocked and I have to say that it is big name speakers who like to do it. What is it that motivates them to do it? Well the impression I get is that it is about power and control. The block (even the word sounds aggressive) is about as physical a way as it is possible on social media to send out the power message. It says
- I control not only who speaks to me but who listens to me as well.
- I am far too important to engage with you.
- I have enough followers – I don’t need you.
The result is first of that if this is about power, then it is a form of online bullying. It is designed to offend and hurt. The result is also that we become increasingly tribal and our conversations ever increasingly are in echo chambers.
Well, how we behave online matters in its own right but also because it so often reflects what we are like in real life. To be sure I’m opinionated online and like to think I’m witty too but probably am not. Guess what if you were to talk to me face to face you would also think I was opinionated, note my sense of humour and probably decide I am not as funny as I think.
So, whilst we can talk about social media etiquette as much as we want, I think we would also do well to think about how we engage with others offline. This will affect us whether or not we have a twitter or Facebook account. You see, it is easy for me to seek to control the conversation, to decide who I talk to and who I listen to. If I take that power view then it will show to others in my body language. As I do that, just as online, I will increasingly find myself living in an echo chamber with only sycophants for company.
I have a choice. I can either use friendship and conversation to show love care and compassion. I can use those conversations to help encourage and build others up. Alternatively I can use conversations and friendships to push myself forward, to control others and to tear them down.
Which one are you doing?