Ruminations on social media comments and writing in general

May 4, 2019

By Beau Chaummers

Back from Medellin and feeling cantankerous.

Some of us count Facebook and other social media among our principal hobbies and pastimes. I confess that I am one. This has led me to catalog some of my thoughts and pet peeves on the topic.

First, some observations about Facebook groups:

Beau Chaummers

As the membership of a Facebook group passes a certain critical mass, almost anything that gets posted, other than giving simple information, will provoke someone and they will respond with a snarky or moralistic comment. This offends others, and an argument ensues.

Next, in these arguments, when one person is able to make a stronger case for their viewpoint, the person on the opposing side will change to ad hominem arguments, attacking the former’s intelligence, character, background, and so forth rather than addressing the issues being debated.

Third, without a wise and proactive moderator, groups of a certain size eventually disintegrate into negativity and many members stop posting there.

Now some recommendations:

Think back to what you learned in kindergarten: if the only thing you can think of to say is angry, hostile, or antisocial, restrain yourself. Maybe write it down and save it and reread it in the morning before deciding whether to post it.

A typical social media commenter.

When someone reports that something bad happened to them, do they really need for 50 people to write in the comments, “I’m sorry that happened.” Isn’t that what emojis are for? Same with congratulations and various other clichés. Won’t the “sad,” “like,” “wow,” or “love” button suffice instead of clogging up the email of everyone following that person?

And is Facebook really the best place to announce that you love your spouse or partner and that he or she is sexy and hot?

Try to write clearly. It is polite and considerate. Poor writing is lazy and makes the reader work to figure out what you are trying to say. Examples include lack of punctuation, lack of caps, all caps, or “creative” use of caps, and one long block of text with no paragraph breaks.

Further, this quote by Einstein, although he wasn’t referring specifically to writing, perfectly describes the twin goals of clear writing: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” The two biggest problems with much writing are 1) too many words (Strunk and White said every word should pull its own weight or it should be deleted), and 2) not enough words to make the meaning clear.

Example of a type 1 error (too wordy):

Heard on the TV news: “We’re seeing a lot of action tornado-wise across the South.” Why not just say “a lot of tornadoes”?

And another:

The  first line of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is a model of brevity. It covers the three basic elements of a story: setting, protagonist, and complication: “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”

On the other hand, here’s a quote from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, finished the year before he died, when he perhaps was not doing very well: “When there were the three of us instead of just the two, it was the cold and the weather that finally drove us out of Paris in the winter time.” (30 words)

How about simply: “When there were three of us instead of two, the cold winter weather drove us out of Paris.” (18 words)

Example of a type 2 error (unclear meaning): “Throwing acid is wrong, in some people’s eyes.”

Another type 2: Someone writes a long screed, covering multiple issues, and another person responds, “I agree” or “Me too.” No one knows what they are agreeing with.

Finally, always proofread what you have typed before you hit Send.

That’s it. I told you I was feeling cantankerous. Bring on the comments.

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