What Ashton Kutcher's Gaffe Can Teach Us About Social Media

(photo: Shutterstock image)

Wow, that’s a bad day: Ashton Kutcher heard in passing that Joe Paterno had been fired, and dashed out a tweet to his 8.2 million followers defending JoePa. As he writes on his blog, Kutcher had assumed that the firing was football-related, and was mortified when he heard the full story. He was so shaken up by this turn of events that he’s now turning his Twitter feed over to a media management company.

Most of us who are on Facebook or Twitter have probably done something similar, though perhaps involving a few million fewer followers. It seems to me that the trouble here wasn’t so much that Kutcher was managing his feed by himself, but that he’d fallen into one of the worst temptations that social media users face: Over-valuing our own opinions.

A while back I did a technology fast where I didn’t use my computer for an entire week: no email, no web surfing, no Twitter, etc. I didn’t even text on my mobile phone. I learned a lot during my seven days of being completely unplugged, but the thing that jumped out to me the most was how it forced me to rethink my relationship to my own opinions.

Only a few hours into the fast, I noticed that I was forming opinions about every little thing that crossed my path. That TV show looks dumb…I’m glad it’s not too hot today…It’s hard to believe that anyone really eats cilantro. If I’d had these kinds of thoughts ten years ago, I wouldn’t have even noticed them; they would have been confined to the silent chatter of my subconscious brain. But ever since I’d discovered social media, I’d gotten in the habit of bringing all these ideas to the forefront of my mind, so that I could share them with everyone on Twitter.

When I first unplugged, I decided that I would write down all my potential updates to post when I returned from my fast. I kept a notebook open on my kitchen counter, and jotted down what I would normally have typed in to Twitter. Then one afternoon I had one of these thoughts, and ran over to the counter to make sure I recorded it before it slipped my mind. After I set down the pen, I stepped back and looked at what I’d just written:

Gourds are weird.

That was the thought I’d deemed so important that it simply must be captured and distributed to the world at large.

I’d come to feel like I simply had to form an opinion about everything I saw, and that people must know about it. And so when I heard about Ashton Kutcher’s mistaken update yesterday, I felt a chill of recognition. I smacked my head and said, “That’s so awful…and it could totally happen to me.” It’s all too easy to get so entrenched in this habit of Have thought—> Tell internet that you never pause before updating your status to ask yourself, “Do I know all the facts?” or “Do I even need to have an opinion about this?” Not only is this not great for our spiritual and mental states, but, as Kutcher recently found, getting careless with how and when we share our opinions can hurt others as well.