When The Canadian Highways Network began, we didn't want to start a serious driver support group, staff it, maintain it and update regularly if all it was going to be was a watering hole for the negative - fueling internet trolls with nothing better to do than verbally attack others online, cloaked in the self perceived safety of their homes. Sounds harsh, we know - but if you have ever spent time in a group that allows this sort of thing, you know what we mean. It's actually exhausting.
In reality (and a quick check of any of their public profiles....settings, people!) shows that they are what you believe they are - everyday people, bored, feeding some frustration, anger or hurt with little to no social media etiquette........or they just don't care.
Is there such a thing as 'social media etiquette?' Why would a bunch of support groups for drivers even need 'etiquette.' If you don't already know the answer to that one, you have never, ever joined an open (Public) Facebook group without rules.
We found a terrific article by Heather Dockray where she describes a Facebook experience;
Earlier this year, I was on Facebook quietly minding my own business/reviewing my profile pics when I came across a particularly long comment thread. The thread caught my attention both because of its size, and because of its seemingly innocuous content: a queer craft fair. The day before, one of the craft fair organizers had posted for musicians, then deleted the post after refusing to disclose whether she’d be paying the performers.
Within seconds, a craft fair became a craft war.
The next morning, I woke up to a comment thread (approaching 400 comments!) accusing the OP of deleting her "way out of accountability.” The cruel, corporate miscreant — who babysits and makes stuffed animals for a living — was accused of embezzlement, supporting the patriarchy and — sickest of all — capitalism. This wasn't the anarcho-syndicalist craft fair we had all been dreaming of. She, I learned, was pro-tarot cards but anti-DIY porn. Proposals to start an alternative craft fair to the alternative craft fair were issued. Links to the communist manifesto were shared. This wasn’t a comments section: This was battle.
When we are online, we can sometimes forget that there are actual people on the other side of our screen. Millions of them....with people who love them, maybe a pet or two - an entire life - and if we remember that a pebble creates a ripple and we cannot always know where that ripple goes, it is best to follow Facebook group etiquette in order to make sure everyone is on the 'same page' so to speak.
Read the Rules
Respect the Rules
That's mainly it. It's a Facebook wide unspoken etiquette that many, many users have forgotten.
Our network of highway support groups (www.canadianhighwaysnetwork.ca) has a strict rule about accident and wreckage photos. We simply don't permit them. The media already posts dramatic photos of scenes meant to shock us - reminding us of the incident every time the photo is used and reused in print and online (and they are re-used in future articles where applicable). The photo of the motorcycle lying crumpled under a truck, a photo with fuzzy rain soaked evening lights and a scene of ambulances, crumpled wreckage, gurneys and authority. A child's bike. It's like a seed that gets planted and grows, but we have no knowledge of how it is growing besides knowing that these images don't help or make people feel good.
We don't discuss accidents as they unfold - we don't sit in judgement of those involved or share who they are. We are a thoughtful, helpful group of drivers working toward the same goal. Driver support, safety and information sharing.
We ventured out and interacted in other online groups to do a little research. We wanted to know if we could even find posts like the negative ones described to us by others. The harsh ones. Surely people think of other people's feelings before posting, don't they? We found out that wasn't always the case.
It didn't take long - three groups we visited had admins dealing with some pretty serious stuff.
All 20 groups we visited had post after post of negative, verbal bashing sessions peppered throughout it.
GROUP ONE: a public page for a provincial town had a post asking its residents what had happened in a certain location of town. A photo with an ambulance at the scene was added to the comment section and it was explained that as there wasn't any identifying information in the photo and it didn't show anyone, that it was permitted. Understandable.
The news spread fast about the tragedy and the description of the horrible story came out before it was released by the general media. In fact, the news mentioned 'social media groups' as being active about the incident and even pulled 'facts' from the group. The Canadian Highways Network can never advocate this as being a good idea. Every family member we have ever spoken with wishes the photos and online forums would just go away. They are a reminder they don't need - a visual they may not already have and don't want.
In this first group, we respectfully commented that the photo and description of what happened should not be shared. Family does not need to see a comment-fest where keyboard judges go off all afternoon trying to make themselves feel better about something happening in the Universe they cannot control. We removed ourselves from the group because information sharing while maintaining the respect of those humans involved wasn't happening. As it is a public page, anyone with Facebook could see it and we continued to get updates from the post until it was removed out of respect for the family by request.
We know that the admins of these groups work hard to maintain control and when a post like that is allowed to carry on, people are going to jump all over it - and they always do. Without fail, it's like a permit gets handed out and everyone decides they know best. They take shelter behind their keyboard and tap away, waiting for the next time they can say something that fuels the reasons they are there. Some of the information shared in the group was false - and that begins a whole 'nother story.
One member of The Canadian Highways Network we spoke with said she has a visual of their father at an accident scene after he was pulled from his vehicle. He was under a sheet, deceased when the reporter snapped the photo and printed it in the next days paper. The photo was taken back when she was 13 and she is now well into her 50's. It is an image she says she can never forget and she wished the media had been more compassionate. The highways network was shaped through stories like these. We want to be helpful, not hurtful.
The Internet doesn’t let you take it back if you change your mind later.
GROUP 2: A photo of the back of a vehicle, including license plate, was posted in a city 'Rant & Rave' group. The post description verbally shamed, bashed and cursed at a women who (not in the photo) had been driving the car. She wasn't a member of the group, but had anyone recognized it, they could easily get word to her. An aggressive campaign against a woman who not even present began.
The poster continued by stating that the woman had almost run over their child. Now, that's pretty serious. It's so serious, that a police report should be filed. The license plate was clearly visible in the photo - it was a no brainer. Instead of publicly posting it, take it to the police.
A member of the group mentioned this, but the poster replied, 'Meh. I can't be bothered.' We were shocked - their child was important enough to promote slaying a stranger online and get into a fight with everyone who dared comment, even those who took her side....but it was not important enough to file a police report to ensure it doesn't happen again and the driver held responsible? Clearly there was one goal and it was not to help create awareness and change. It was to attack and destroy and feel better. The admin in the group eventually removed the post, but the poster still couldn't quite understand why and continued to question the group's ability to handle it.
Most times, the poster in a group that attacks another person is doing so because they are in an emotional state or just plain bored. Generally, an incident has happened and they feel the need to get it out there - to justify their position within the framework of it all.That gets the defence of the group going and splits them. If comments are open, it could go on forever.
Now, we aren't saying that it isn't warranted for someone to be upset about an incident - but we were all born with something called 'coping skills and freaking out in a group helps no one. If we are adult enough to be on Facebook, we are adult enough to spend a few minutes offline calming down before returning to the group. We don't want to instill fear or get others worked up unnecessarily. That does not fall under 'helpful.' If it is so important that someone needs to get online and rant to strangers about a stranger, the police should be contacted.
Even if you think your bullying is going to help be supportive
of others, you’re still just a bully.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is attacked this way online. Wouldn't you prefer a respectful conversation and a chance to offer your side and work things out versus a photo accompanied rant to 20,000 people you don't know and a relentless public shaming?
The Canadian Highways Network offers an environment where members can relax, search for highway info or share theirs with the group. We are supportive and friendly - and we advocate what matters most to us - the safety of drivers and all Canadians. Admins are available online anytime a member has an issue or a report they need to submit discreetly, without posting it to the entire group.
Our visits to 20+ online groups validated our decision to keep that sort of thing out of the network. Call us crazy, but we really can all get along if we each make an effort.
Admins are folks like you and I, volunteering their time but their goal isn't always the same as ours and that's OK.
Some enjoy running rooms that allow anything - and kudos to them. We don't. We do know we can all work together to be helpful. There are many, many, MANY terrific admins out there and we appreciate you all.
GROUP THREE: In Group Three, we found much of the same, but also really disturbing video. It was a clip, taken from inside a truck, passenger filming. A man stood outside the driver side window, screaming and pounding on the glass for almost three minutes. He kept repeating for the man to get out of the truck - his head was so red we couldn't stand watching for long. The man kicked and slammed his fists against this truck for longer than we chose to watch, but we can't imagine how it ended. The man screaming was fueled by the honking car horns as they passed the scene, further pushing him to try to gain access into this vehicle.
We were given no context for the video - it was just physical and verbal aggression on video and a very scared driver watching his truck get beat up. We also don't know how it ended, but when people in the group watched it, they formed an opinion, and some just couldn't keep it inside.
The dramatic video started a comment storm which curled into a curse-fest and the entire point of the post was gone if it ever existed. Sides were taken and comments flew. 1389 of them in five hours. That's dedication, but we couldn't imagine a driver trying to find highway information through those type of posts - that's why they aren't permitted in the network.
If you've never heard of defamation of character, it should be researched before participating or commenting in group rants such as the ones we've mentioned.
We also found really well run groups where the admins remained neutral and followed up with issues. They did not create drama and they were fair to all members. Those that run these groups, where the goal is to support, connect and inform - we get ya! Thanks for being part of the positive.
The Canadian Highways Network has 13+ groups for highway information sharing. There is one for every province and territory in Canada. A simple search of the group and you can find any Highway you need. The point of the network is to get information sharing happening fast and free of 'all that stuff.'
When it comes to online groups and the people you share them with, always make sure it suits your needs and doesn't create more issues or stress in your life. Take care of each other out there.
Welcome to the network.