Sunday, November 12, 2017

Should I post something when my social media group goes haywire?

Molly (let's call her that) works full-time for a small construction firm in the Northeast. Her husband, Desmond (also not the name he actually goes by) is a firefighter for their local fire department. They have two children, a third grader and a fifth grader, who attend the same school.

Molly and Desmond each regularly contribute their time to the school by supporting fundraising events and volunteering when the school puts out a call for parent volunteers for certain events. They've done this since their oldest child started school six years ago.

Recently, another group of parents started a social media site where parents can post information about the school, including notices of upcoming events, results of sporting events, or other news related to the school. The social media group is curated by a small group of parents who manage who gets to belong to the group and read the posts. People connected to the school who ask to join the group are rarely if ever denied access.

Molly regularly checks into the site because she often finds postings that are useful, whether it's the announcement of an upcoming bake sale, or news of one of the student's efforts to engage in a project supporting an area of the country recently hit by a hurricane. Desmond also belongs to the site, but rarely spends any time with it. In fact, Desmond rarely spends time with any social media, or the Internet at all.

A recent post to the social media group raised an issue with an effort that one of the other parents was undertaking at the school. A long discussion thread -- some agreeing with the post, others taking the poster to task -- followed.

Molly was incensed. "It seemed totally inappropriate for the site," she writes. "Some parents want to use the site to complain rather than to share information."

She was prepared to add to the discussion thread with a comment asking parents to remember the purpose of the site and to ask them to not turn it into a site for complaints and quarrels. She also planned to email the administrators of the site to ask them to take the post and discussion she found offensive down.

When she told Desmond of her plan, he urged her not to post anything. His concern, she writes, was that her request would have little effect and those engaged in the disagreement might "turn on her."

"Is it wrong not to post something if I really feel strongly about it?" she asks.

Molly needs to decide to do what Molly wants to do, regardless of what I or Desmond think. Do I believe that her comment will quell the masses rushing to disagree online? No. Social media sites have a way of taking on a life of their own. If the rules of engagement are not made clear or the site administrators don't do a rigorous enough job policing those who disregard those rules, the sites run the risk of becoming posts full of misinformation or rants.

The right thing, however, is for Molly to decide if she feels strongly enough to post a comment, even if it means she will become a focus of ire. Or she could simply decide to unjoin the social media group and, like Desmond, spend less time online. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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