From the desk of Adair Jones

As a long-time writer, I’ve learned to deal with the crossover between public and private life. When you put yourself out there, whether it’s in words, images or performances, exposure goes with the territory. You have to accept that you will be examined and judged. And you soon learn that not everyone appreciates what you have to say.

When I began my writing career, social media was limited to email, a few elite blogs, and comments to articles that were published online. I was able to ease into what I like to call my ‘writing persona’ (something I consider to be apart from the real person who does the washing up and lawn mowing). I had the luxury of making decisions about the kind of impact I wanted to have — I could craft it, time it, pull back, and push forward as necessary.

Now, however, social media is ubiquitous, immediate, and ever alluring. Everyone has a public profile. And it can be viewed and commented on by everyone else. We have at our fingertips the ability to post our every mood and thought, unfortunately, with an ease that is dangerous.

One the bus, nearly all the passengers are tapping away at their phones. Some play games, others review emails. A few, however, are making comments about fellow passengers and posting them to Facebook. And some of those comments are accompanied by photographs. The line between public and private is increasingly blurred.

Not many of us have an individual media strategy or a marketing plan. If we did, we would evaluate each comment and post to determine whether it was in line with the larger vision we have for our public profile. The ease of social media is intoxicating. We respond in the moment. Sadly, in all too many of those moments, we are under the influence of too little coffee, too much wine, or the argument we had with the boss. What we say reflects these vagaries of mood. Sometimes we seek to be witty, but it falls flat. We end up looking self-involved. Or arrogant. Or unkind.

And there’s something else: what happens online stays online. Forever. Every throw-away line. Every witticism. Every complaint. Every rant. Every foolish observation.

We can add our opinions to every issue out there. What we can’t control is how our tiny comment combines with millions of others, and how all of those voices together can bring disaster to individual lives.

All of this is poignantly illustrated in a recent TEDTalk by Monica Lewinski entitled The Price of Shame. She speaks about the shaming she faced over a bad decision she once made, which had a near tragic outcome. She calls for a new awareness of our online behaviour, not only of how it can affect our own public profiles, but of how it might touch the lives of others.

I’m grateful I had many years of practice before social media went viral. I have a well-engrained habit of thinking twice about the comments I make. Taking care with spelling and punctuation slows me down. Sometimes I even stop to get a glass of water, then reread what I’ve written. Many times, I make changes or delete the comment without posting.

Most importantly, I ask myself, Is it necessary? Is it kind?

It’s something I believe everyone should do.