Using Social Media…on the Autism Spectrum
By: Jennifer Artesani, M.Ed., LMHC
Using Social Media…on the Autism Spectrum
Those on the Autism Spectrum are consistently having to work more often than most on understanding what’s appropriate or expected in this world we live in. As the world grows technologically and with Social Media so do our situations in which social expectations can become confusing. While the purpose of this article is to help those with specific social difficulties it’s important to remember that we all struggle at some point or another with complications with our social skills. It would be great if we all were provided with constructive feedback from our peers on social media when we have offended them, annoyed them, or made them uncomfortable. Unfortunately when we upset someone via social media we are often met with either a public verbal bashing, an “unfollow”, or a “delete” of friendship. While these actions inform us that something went wrong it does not quite let us know what we did or did not do that was “unacceptable”. That is the purpose of this article. To help us understand what the social expectations of Social Media are and how to resolve the situation when it occurs. Again, this article is not only for those on the Autism Spectrum.
Often times we are unaware when we have crossed a social boundary because our intentions were good. In the world of social media good intentions come in the form of “liking” or “commenting” on someone’s posts or pictures. Seems innocent right? Why wouldn’t someone want to know that their picture or post was appreciated? Is that not why they posted it in the first place? These are all correct assumptions. However, those unspoken social rules still apply on social media as they would in our everyday lives. Imagine what it would be like if the same person complimented you ten times in a row. The first few compliments would probably make us feel good and bring about a large smile. But as they continued to rocket fire those compliments or “likes” at us that smile would likely slowly start to fade and even eventually lead to feeling uncomfortable. This scenario applies to our social media compliments (better known as “likes” and “comments”) as well. When we over “like” or “comment” on too many pictures or posts of the same person that person may eventually begin to feel uncomfortable. So how much is too much? What is the magic number of “likes” or “comments” before we’ve crossed the line? Unfortunately there is no magic number which perpetuates the difficulties of our unspoken social expectations of appropriateness. To help us gage appropriate amounts think of when someone receives an alert about your action on their social media page. Picture in your head how that alert shows up and imagine how often your “face” or name shows up. Seeing your name or “face” five or more times at the same moment may become overwhelming for the person. While your act was innocent enough and happened all within minutes of each other because that happens to be the time you have set aside to use social media to the other person it may simply be too much at once. So while there is not set rule to follow, a good rule of thumb could be to keep it to three or less “likes” and “comments” (combined) for the same person. While it may not be as many compliments or praises that you would like to give them they will still feel appreciated and liked by your three or less compliments.
While we are trying to maintain social appropriateness we are not perfect. There will be times that we have crossed those social boundaries. Then what? Engage in the public display of someone “calling us out” on our social inappropriateness? Accept the friendship is over when they hit “delete”? Luckily, we have options and we can resolve it. We all cross social boundaries so we should all learn how to resolve situations when we do. Let’s say you made a post that offended someone. You’ll know they were offended when they reply to your post with frowny faces or some not so nice words. You will then be left with two options. Join them in the online debate that typically never has an agreed upon winner or try to privately resolve the issue. Why privately? Approaching others privately takes away the need to impress an audience with our “comebacks” and well planned out wording. Taking this need away from both your “component” and yourself will allow for a more honest and likely resolution. You can approach someone privately either in person, giving them a call, or messaging them. Since written word can be misinterpreted in person or on the phone is best but writing to them privately is still more useful then writing to them publicly for others to see “the show”. So now that we’ve determined how to approach someone when they are upset with something we have said what is our next step? We then want to address them politely as to reduce their assumption that our goal is to continue the argument or defend ourselves. This may look something like this: “Hey! How are you? I saw your response to my post and it makes be believe that I may have offended you. That of course was not my intention and I would like to clear the air with you”. We never have to apologize for our values and opinions. However, if we would like to keep relationships we should be comfortable with apologizing if our expressions of our values and opinions have offended or hurt someone else. Our intention of the expression was not to offend others so apologizing if it does is appropriate and by no means indicates you have changed your stance.
Now that we have reviewed how to resolve conflicts that may arise based off of our posts we should probably address how to reduce these conflicts from arising in the first place. Although we cannot guarantee we will not offend others we can reduce the likelihood of doing so. For this we can follow a historic social skills rule of: avoid topics of religion, finances, and politics. These three topics have been known to cause controversy and arguments since the dawn of time. That is why it is such a well-known social rule. However, this rule seems to be becoming more and more ignored everyday on social media. While the purpose of this section is not to inform others to be ignorant of these topics and to never speak of them it is rather to remember why this golden rule came about. We are not likely to be close with all of our connections on social media. So they do not typically have old memories with us or frequent enjoyable encounters with us. Therefore what we post may be the jest of their interactions with us. It is unlikely that you will share the same views and opinions on these three topics as everyone on your social media. Therefore just by doing the math posting your opinion on these topics will guarantee someone to disagree publicly and most likely lead to online debates and possibly offending others. These topics should not be ignored but would be better suited spoken about with people with whom you trust and who have a more serious connection with you. The reason for this is because if they disagree with you they are not likely to cease the relationship based off one discussion as they will likely have a greater connection with you in other areas.