By Dr. Anthony Policastro

There is an old saying for leaders. It goes: “Praise in public, criticize in private.” It is a good general approach to getting people to work together. 

Back in the early days of social media, I was a Hospital Commanding Officer in the Air Force. My IT people set up an e-mail system that went to all the hospital employees. Over 90 percent of them read the e-mails consistently since we tracked that. 

Many of the e-mails were for information. Some of them were sent as answers to questions. However, it offered me a golden opportunity to offer thanks to individuals so that everyone would know when someone or some group did something well.

I learned two lessons from doing that. The first was related to thanking groups. You had to be careful about singling out members of that group if you happened to not mention every single one of them.

The second was related to the fact that nothing happened in a vacuum. If someone was doing something extra, they often were not at their primary job. That meant that I also needed to thank those who were covering the office during their absence.

I would never criticize anyone in that particular format. It would accomplish nothing positive. It would likely cause many negative feelings.

Unfortunately, many individuals who use social media don’t get it. For some reason, they don’t seem to realize that social media is indeed public. Because of that, they feel that they have the right to criticize anyone at any time.

The goal of criticism is to give the individual the chance to improve themselves for the next time. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. They should have the opportunity to know what that mistake is and to learn from it.

Instead, the individuals often have to spend time doing other things instead. They might have to apologize. They might have to explain what they meant.

The demand of social media for perfection is unrealistic. None of us are perfect. Nor will we ever be.

If you look at it from a different standpoint, these individuals are not really criticizing. They are doing nothing more than using social media to be a bully. They are hiding behind the Internet to do something that harms other individuals.

An NIH study in July of this year showed that nine percent of adolescents are subject to cyberbullying. How many adolescents go on to commit suicide because of that is not clear.

One thing is clear, those people who consistently criticize on social media are nothing more than bullies. Perhaps they need someone to criticize that behavior in private.