Let's start with the misconception. The issue at hand is that the social media portals (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and their competitors) and comment sections on so many sites are still perceived as something that exists solely online, is a casual pastime, is not real and has no real world consequences. The evidence this misconception exists is in the actions of many people who leave nasty comments for website articles and other online content, create bullying and smearing campaigns online, and sometimes outright threaten individuals and groups. They do it with such freedom that is unheard of in the real world; those same people would normally be too afraid or concerned for their image and their own safety to do the exact same thing in everyday life. The proof that this misconception is in fact a misconception, is in real world effects that social media and online content exhibit on it. Social media campaigns have impacted individual lives, created billions of dollars all over the world, created unlikely starts and infamy, heroes and villains. We don't live in the same pre-Internet reality our older generations and ancestors did. We live in an augmented reality- a physical reality augmented by Internet, its content and its social media world. The fact that people still ignore this or debate the validity of the augmented world idea is at this point nonsensical.
The above misconception has caused people to believe that the real world and the online world are dual worlds- existing side-by-side yet separate from each other. People who believe this still believe that being a good guy in the real world, and describing how to blow something up online does not make him a potential terrorist and a dangerous individual. The idea of augmented reality is much more accurate and should be a guiding principle to everyone. Social media portals and online forums bring a new dimension to who we are in real life. It allows us to live in a world of instant communication, to instantly and constantly project who we are to the global village. We may be more than the sum of our words and actions, but those words and actions get summed up online to create an extension of our individual being. I know this sounds almost spiritual and ethereal, but it is an excellent way to describe an extension of us that is not physical and is not always perceived with the naked eye in everyday world, yet at the same time it's an important part of it. This will become even more obvious as social media becomes even more deeply integrated into our lives. It will soon become impossible to be nasty to others online beyond what you would normally do face to face, and the punishment for it will become equally harsh as it would be offline. Bully someone's girlfriend, her boyfriend will kick your sorry behind. Threaten bodily harm, and the police will always knock on your door for it until one day they take you away in cuffs. Laugh at someone for the way they dress, get laughed at right back for being excited you have a girlfriend at an age when people expect that to be the norm for your life. There will be a reaction for every action, and if you are nasty without cause, you will always get burned. You will either be ignored, bullied right back, or worse.
Finally, some recommendations for everyone. The privacy bubble most of us are used to online- especially when doing something on there we normally wouldn't- is about to burst. It is now more important than ever to shape the online extension of who you are just as much and just as well as you do with your core, offline self. Just as the cyber bullying campaigns around Toronto suggest- if you wouldn't say it, don't type it. If you wouldn't do it out there, don't do it online. If you are thinking about something you shouldn't, join a group of buddies who are into the same thing and leave the public out of it. If you don't want a police record and consequently a diminished chance at a good job in an already tough job market, don't do something stupid online. Finally, be true to yourself even when risking criticism online. Just because this online thing is augmenting our reality, it does not mean you shouldn't participate or hide everything about what makes you a unique individual. If you like jazz and most people around you don't, share it online still, and don't waver if people call you out on it. Find other jazz lovers and you'll get the support you need. If you don't think that occasionally sharing photos of partying and drinking means that you are a drunk and a bad person or a bad employee- stand up. Get people to understand that we are all human and that we should do should suspend the urge to insta-judge others around us. Instead, the better way to go is to ask and answer- to spark conversation and shape your augmented reality any best way you know how.
I hope I've done a fair share informing and inspiring my dearest readers. Until next time, ciao :)