Do You Really Want to Send That?

Times are tough for everyone. It’s time to think before you send

Technology, it allows us to act with the speed of light and respond as quickly as a frog’s tongue zaps an unsuspecting fly.

Illustration of a person in front of a computer monitor with literal flames coming out of the screen
Lifewire /  Tim Liedtke 

These days, however, we’re all a bit raw, a little more tender, and maybe a bit too reactive. This is what happens when you’re cooped up at home for almost three months and dealing with the first pandemic in your lifetime.

Unless you’re living with someone (and even if you are), almost all of your interactions are digital, whether it’s the regular Zoom chat or FaceTime, an email, text, or Instagram DM. And, perhaps out of boredom (or a desperate need to connect), we’re spending more time on social media (when we’re not rapidly draining the once insurmountable Netflix content library).

We’re struggling, surviving, and reacting and maybe we’re doing that last one a little too fast.

Angry man
Let the anger out, but maybe not on Twitter, email, Instagram, email, or texts. Planes, Trains & Automobiles / Paramount Pictures

Draft Mode for Life

I started thinking again about responses, hot-takes, and knee-jerk (emphasis on jerk) reactions after I noticed Twitter launching a small, but not geographically limited, test on something called “Revise Reply.” 

The concept is simple. You see a Tweet, your head explodes, but before the plume has even reached its apex, you’ve typed a response and hit “Reply.”

In the normal course of events, that overreaction ends up in the feed and is seen by, at the very least, the original Tweet author, who is likely horrified and now crafting his own angry retort.

With Revise Reply you get to take a beat.

Twitter told me that instead of the Tweet reply being sent immediately, a prompt will highlight objectionable or inflammatory text. Twitter described it to me as a “language similar to that seen in reported Tweets.” By “reported,” Twitter means language from previously published Tweets that other users have reported for abuse.

The prompt will offer the angry tweet author the opportunity to revise or remove the language before sending.

Not only is Twitter helping you avoid a Twitter fight, it’s also preventing you from doing something you’ll probably regret later, like eating a week-old enchilada. Obviously, you can always go back and delete a Tweet reply that set someone off, but by then the damage has been done. Also, you can never un-eat that enchilada.

Save your worst thoughts for Notes. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Save You From Yourself

Twitter offered no details on whether this tiny experiment would expand or ever work with original Tweets and not just replies. But I think it’s a fantastic idea that could work in all social media and beyond.

I’ve seen my share of nasty Facebook posts to know it could work there. Even on Instagram where the comments field is a wild west of pretty pictures and unsolicited criticism, I could see this changing the entire mood.

Honestly, I’d like to see an AI-based system vetting all of our posts and prompting us with, “Are you sure you want to post that?” It could stop things like:

  • Shirtless posts
  • Sharing too much (“I have a hangnail”)
  • Political A-bombs (I like political discourse as much as the next person, but social media is the worst platform for measured discussion)
  • Racism
  • Mean-spiritedness
  • Misogyny
  • Idiocy

Theoretically, people can report some of these posts and, sometimes, they get taken down. However, I truly believe that if a system asked you if you really wanted to say something before you hit “send,” “reply,” “post,” or “comment,” the entire complexion of social media would change.

“What about texts?” you ask? What do you think? Apple is reportedly considering an iOS 14 feature called "Retract Messages." Not as good as "reconsider sending messages," but it's a start.

Don’t Hold It In

Obviously, if we don't express some of these things and keep all our nasty replies to ourselves, we’ll blow our lids like a malfunctioning Instant Pot.

Here’s my suggestion: Write it down in Notes (on iPhone) or Notebook in Windows. Don't edit yourself, just let loose and write it. Then put it aside and take a walk around your two-room apartment. Look out the window, stare at the passing cars, the leaves of a nearby tree. Close your eyes. Then return to that document, reread your acid text, and decide if you still want to post it.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been giving this advice for decades, going back to the early days of email. Back then it was such a kick to instantly send and receive critical thoughts and, occasionally, respond with a pointed slap down.

Not only is Twitter helping you avoid a Twitter fight, it’s also preventing you from doing something you’ll probably regret later, like eating that week-old enchilada. 

I quickly learned, however, that angry emails without the context of my voice, face, and in-person emotion could unnecessarily hurt others and blow up in my face. That’s when I started my email draft folder. On every platform from MCI and CC Mail to Outlook and Gmail, it’s been full of unsent angry emails and replies.

In the 21st Century, my Twitter drafts folder (on mobile) is full of half-baked and unbelievably bad tweet ideas and replies.

It occurs to me that, especially now, we need similar strategies for Slack and Microsoft Teams use. This constant connection to co-workers and their ability to ping us with a new message alert on every single device has turned us all into instant repliers. I’ve made more mistakes in Slack in the last three months than I ever have in over a decade on social media.

So What

We all simply need to take a beat. Twitter’s form of it, though it may never leave the test stage, is a brilliant one. Remember, you have no idea what the person on the other side of that thread is going through. One extra moment of thought is possibly all you need to put yourself in their shoes and see that it’s not so easy for them, either.

This is what life could use right now, a little more patience, a little more kindness, a little more caution. If that comes in a purely digital form, so be it.