How to Stop Social Media Graffiti Mongers

The Starfish Story

When the drums of election campaigning began to get louder last year, I and many of my friends in social media all thought it would only look like a public debate between candidates with a little mudslinging here and there, and with the usual online endorsements of candidates. We were wrong. When election day arrived on May 9 this year, we thought all negative posts, tweets and pins would end and we can go back to what we were doing while looking forward to the next executive administration. Again, we were so wrong.

The unwritten ethics and rules when posting online suddenly disappeared. People of all ages, even Baby Boomers, started their own “dirty tricks” campaign in the digital world while sucker-punching anyone who went against their candidate with in-your-face and sometimes cursed language. I posted only two digital posters on my Facebook Timeline in the entire period of election campaigning and on both occasions, I got comments attacking my chosen candidates… and me! Thank goodness I had the option to delete those comments, disregarding the unwritten rule of keeping freedom of speech alive in the World Wide Web. Hey! I treasure my Timeline.

Suddenly, many people became social media graffiti mongers.

Wikipedia defines graffiti as writing or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched, or painted illicitly on a wall or other surface, often within public view. Merriam-Webster’s versions are (1) unauthorized writing or drawing on a public surface, and (2) writing or drawing made on a public structure without permission.

Two negative words and a phrase spring out of all these definitions: illicitly, unauthorized and without permission. It may be a tall order to regard all these social media graffiti as unauthorized or without permission but “illicit” is defined by Merriam-Webster as unlawful, illegal or not considered morally acceptable. So, let me add the word to the phrase that describes these social media graffiti people:

Illicit social media graffiti mongers.

But what can the good citizens of social networks and the digital world do? We can’t impose restrictions on social networks because that is just totally so dictatorial; nor should we attack those that threaten the moral fiber2 of our social networks – that will just incite a reciprocal gesture and a digital war might just ensue. Keeping the World Wide Web as how Tim Berners-Lee created it and allowed it to grow and prosper should continue, and no one controls the web. So, how?

There are three phrases or quotations1 I picked up from my years in the corporate world that best describes the “change” happening to our social networks today and the “change” we want to happen:

  1. Change won’t go away. It will only go faster.
  2. No matter how well planned, change won’t be trouble-free.
  3. Each of us is accountable for making change successful.

The first two tenets are obvious or understandable, and they remain as tenets, imperatives or directives that we have to keep forever. But the third one is actionable, “Each one of us is accountable for making change successful.” There is no one leader or association heralded to implement change in our social networks because no one owns and controls the activities and events happening in the World Wide Web, much more a social network. Nope! Not even the (new?) president of the country is responsible for accountability. What the third tenet is telling us – telling you now – is that each one of us must implement change. Again, the question is “How?”

My opinion is we do it in three simultaneous actions:

  1. We must educate those who are misguided;
  2. We must attend to and help heal those who were traumatized or bullied;
  3. We must always conduct ourselves in our social networks with moral fiber.

Tall order for these three solutions, right? Well, let me share with you a parable that (again) I learned from one of the dozens of training sessions I attended in my corporate life.

The Starfish Story3

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” he asks.

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”

“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”

It doesn’t take a village to make a difference. It only takes you to start it.

The first time I encountered the starfish story was with a training video and the latter part of the starfish story shows the young man also picking up starfishes on the shore and throwing them back to the ocean. He began to imitate the old man. The nearest video representing the “Starfish Story” originally written by Loren Eiseley in 1969 is this YouTube video4 published by Rebel Shoes Productions, but the young man here is represented by an old man and vice-versa.

Here’s one tip on how to start: choose one person. You can begin with the one closest to you. Educate by defining and describing “moral fiber” and implementing such in their social networks. Touch base with another whom you feel was bullied or traumatized by the recent online mudslinging and digital bashing. And always think ten times before posting, tweeting or pinning while keeping in mind that others will see you and share and imitate what you say or show. Soon, you will have a village doing all three solutions with you and for you: educate, heal and conduct. Then, it becomes viral.

Many of us are not born leaders nor trained ones. But we all have friends we care about – our starfishes. Start with one starfish and make a difference there. Then, go to the next starfish. This is how we can make a difference.

Let the social starfish revolution begin! 😊



1 – Shefrin, Carol; Shafer, Dehra. Organizational Change and Improvement Institute (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, November 15-16, 1999).

2 – Urban Dictionary. Top definition of moral fiber.

3 – The Starfish Story.

4 – Starfish Story (aka The Star Thrower). Rebel Shoes Productions.

Image from YouTube/Starfish Story (aka The Star Thrower).


Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *