Teresa Hoffman mug

Teresa Hoffman

There it was, right on my phone. A Facebook post that made me sad about what social media has become.

Remember, in the beginning, when Facebook was a place for people to share how they were feeling, what they were doing that day or, to the chagrin of some, to post photos of what they were having for dinner?

Can we go back to those days, please?

Sure, we complained about people posting photos of food, but I'll take that over the comments and posts I read on a daily basis across all social media platforms.

It doesn't matter if it's a political post, a news story or a photo of a cute puppy, there's bound to be a negative comment. I often make bets with myself on how many comments I will read before a negative one appears.

The ones I shake my head the most at are on recipes and DYI projects. Do people really feel better when they post, "That's gross," "That's a heart attack waiting to happen" or "You are doing that wrong?"

But those are pretty tame compared to others who have taken to social media to criticize the service and food at local businesses, people who drive in the wrong lane of the highway, have trouble navigating the school drop off line or pull out in front of them in traffic.

Food service reviews and road rage have been taken to a whole new level thanks to social media.

I know, in many cases, people use social media to vent or warn others. But, they may not realize their words can have consequences beyond their original intention.

Which brings me back to the Facebook post mentioned above. In that post on a local group page, an area resident was about to begin her new job at a local establishment and the prospect of being ridiculed on social media if she made a mistake had her worried. She was right to be worried because there were countless examples for her to see on that page alone.

I understand that people don't like terrible service, but is Facebook really the place to criticize? If it's a matter of public safety, maybe a warning is warranted. But, most of the time, that is not the intention. Please realize the criticism could lead to the loss of a local businesses or other unintended consequences.

That brings me to a more disturbing trend on social media.

It's no secret we live in a world with opinions on a variety of topics. It's what makes our country great. We are free, to an extent, to speak our mind and we don't have to agree on everything.

But, lately, it appears that if we don't agree, we hate the person we are talking with, or the country itself.

Social media is filled with people who have a "my way or the highway" and "I am right and you are wrong" attitudes and they are not afraid to lash out at others.

Some have even gone to the extreme to defend their views by threatening — sometimes with death — those who don't agree and also politicians for making certain decisions and journalists for doing their job in reporting the news or, in the case of a media commentator, offering their opinion.

While the First Amendment gives us the right, for the most part, to state our opinion, far too often, people get off track by launching into personal attacks, and, in extreme cases, take it too far by making threats.

Though the posters aren't likely to follow through with the threats, putting them out on social media could lead someone who may not be in the right state of mind to do so.

But, hope is not lost. I believe we can change course and make social media a place where there are more good posts than bad if we just think before we post.

We won't stop it altogether because, of course, social media has become a place where many people read about the events of the day and they want to comment. Those comments, however, should lead to a healthy debate, but that will only happen when people realize, in the end, they may have to walk away agreeing to disagree.

So, the next time you want to vent on social media or offer your two cents, remember, words matter. Please choose them carefully.

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