Nov 8

Rules of Engagement

At its core, social media is a wonderful tool. It’s given voice to countless individuals who have important stories to share, shed light on serious social issues and created a space for young entrepreneurs to thrive. However, when everyone has a voice, EVERYONE has a voice.

As we’ve seen over the last few years, commenters have taken to their favorite social media platforms to express their thoughts – whether those thoughts are founded in reality, good intention or facts. Frankly, it’s created a challenging space to deal with, both professionally and personally. I truly believe in our core American value of freedom of speech, but it’s often used as an excuse for bad, hurtful and destructive behavior.

Words matter. They have the power to uplift and the power to destroy. When you’re speaking face-to-face with another human being, we tend to do a better job at filtering because we know there is another human on the end of the communication line. That filter dissipates the further removed the message-giver and the message-receiver are, which means social media is often devoid of filter.

There has been a marked increase in the vitriol hurled on social media in the last couple of years, which I know is no surprise to anyone. But what’s shocking to me is just how wide-spread and prevalent the hatred is. In some ways, I understand given our political landscape why this is happening, but we’re seeing it seep into community-based organizations over often small issues.

The next time you’re tempted to take to social media, here are a few things you may want to keep in mind:

  1. Determine the intensity of the problem: There have been great inequities, social concerns and issues brought from the shadows thanks to the power of social media. Your taco order not having the avocados you added is not one of them. Take a minute to assess if you are justified in publicly shaming an organization or if you are just a little cranky that day.
  2. Ask if social media is the right channel: Are you taking to social media because you want an answer? Do you want to make the organization look bad? Do you want to make sure something doesn’t happen again? These are questions to think about to see if social media is really the right venue for your complaint. Perhaps it could be fixed easily with a phone call or a private message.
  3. Think before you speak: This is something many of us are taught at a young age, but it’s one of the hardest lessons to stick. It’s very easy to just type away and throw thoughts out there, but we all must realize words have consequences. We’re dealing with issues as a society that many of us haven’t seen in our lifetime. A little grace and thoughtful selection of words can make all the difference.
  4. Remember, there is a human at the other end: Speaking of humans, most social media is not managed by some mysterious figurehead out in the ether, it’s managed by actual real-life humans. There is someone on the other end just like your friend, sibling or neighbor (in fact, it could be). Reference tip No. 3 and respond as if you are talking to a person. I guarantee they are trying their best to provide help, but they are also experiencing the ups and downs that come with life – don’t be a down for them.
  5. When in doubt, just shut up: In a blog about being a little kinder, this is a little cheeky, but it’s a mantra I have to tell myself often. Assess if it’s worth to engage in social media bad behavior – what are you gaining from it? I think most of us are good-hearted humans, but it’s easy to get caught up in debates or when we’re angry. Another way to say this rule is “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

With a little thought, I think we can all be a little kinder to each other and empower social media to get back to the role of lifting up rather than tearing down.

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