When Social Media is Used as a Weapon

3 years ago

My friend called to tell me about an issue her preteen daughter was having with one of her friend's children; totally normal preteen girl drama.  As I commiserated, I went on Facebook to look up the family we were discussing, curious about whether the mother and daughter matched the image I had in my mind.

The next day, I was speaking with my friend again, and as she told me the next part of the on-going saga, she mentioned that the strangest thing was that this other mother had deleted her Facebook page.

"Really?" I asked, crossing the room to go to the computer to see for myself.  "After five o'clock last night?"

"No, it was before I called you," my friend admitted.

"Uh... but I looked her up on Facebook last night while we were talking to see what she looked like.  And her page was there then."  It took me a moment to bring up the mother's page on the screen, but there she was again, smiling at me -- a selfie taken in a pumpkin patch.  "No, I see her page right now."

I could hear clicking on the other end of the line.  "I'm getting a message saying this page is not available."  There was a pause, a sucking in of breath, and a spewing of the realization: "Oh my G-d!  She blocked me!"

Flickr: Rawrkidrawr via Flickr

She had been unfriended and blocked, the adult casualty in the preteens' fight since neither girl is on Facebook herself.  Since the woman's daughter couldn't give my friend's daughter the social media cold shoulder, the mother did the dirty deed for her and not only disconnected herself from my friend but blocked her for good measure to send an additional little message: I don't want you in my life AT ALL.

My friend was stunned.  The argument between the girls had been the sort that would probably have blown over with time, but the actions of the mother spoke volumes about how little she was teaching her daughter to navigate those face-to-face confrontations.  How was her daughter supposed to learn how to discuss differences and come to a place of understanding if her mother's method for dealing with a scuffle was to unfriend and block without comment? 

Certainly, in the case of serious bullying, violent acts, or threatening behaviour, the ability to disconnect and block is an important feature of social media.  Additionally, having the choice to hide your profile from people you never wish to friend is helpful too.  But when we're talking about two preteens mooning over the same boy and arguing over who noticed him first, the steps we take to deal with the situation shouldn't be the same ones we use to protect ourselves or our children from harm.

Unfriending and blocking is the online equivalent of smacking someone across the face, and it should be used sparingly, not as a first defense.

We should be teaching kids that disconnecting on social media should be a last resort that sends a powerful message that the behaviour in question is not okay, and people should disconnect with the understanding that they most likely won't be connecting again in the future.  Sometimes this is what needs to happen.  But since these two women will need to live and socialize in the same community, a better option would have been to take the discussion offline. 

Social media should be... social.  The same rules apply in our interactions online: be courteous, listen, be open-minded, state your point-of-view, but above all, work towards a solution rather than burning bridges.

Where do you stand on unfriending/blocking?  Do you use it as a first defense or a last case option?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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