Following the recent events of the shootings in South Carolina, the removal of the confederate flag from the State House, the Supreme Court rulings on healthcare and gay marriage, I have been paying close attention to what people have been posting on social media. Although the majority of posts I observed were positive, supportive and loving, I am continually surprised at the number of vitriolic messages people chose to put out into the world. Beyond the broader universal issues, I recently experienced an ex-husband take to Facebook to attack his ex-wife publicly for issues that were private and only related to the two of them, but apparently he decided that publicly humiliated her was going to benefit him in some way. I listened to a beautiful and compassioned talk by author and Psychologist Brené Brown on the Power of Vulnerability, in which she talked about how we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open if we truly want to connect, empathize and feel love. In the comment section, someone attacked her for being “fat.”
Why? What draws so many of us choose to react with negativity and ugliness? What thought and self-awareness is present when doing this?
I believe in free speech and have no interest in censoring anyone. But I do challenge myself and everyone else to ask this question before putting something into the ether world of the internet: why am I posting this? How does it serve me or anyone else? Am I acting as an agent of good, or being destructive and divisive? I’ve given this much thought, and I’ve come up with some guidelines for myself that I’ve summarized below.
Do people really need to see another video of teenagers fighting in a fast food joint? How important is it that you share how bad the service was at the restaurant last night? Are you attacking, insulting and ridiculing, or are you praising, thanking, and helping someone or some cause? If you want to be respected you first have to give respect. No one wants to be associated with a negative individual. Before posting something, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Is there anyone this might harm? Sometimes we post thoughts without considering how they might impact our audience and it’s easy to forget how many friends are reading. Two hundred people make a crowd in person, but online that number can seem insignificant. Remember, we want to build ties, not burn them down.
Know your intentions.
Doug Firebaugh of SocialMediaBlogster.com has identified seven psychological needs we may be looking to meet when we log on: acknowledgment, attention, approval, appreciation, acclaim, assurance, and inclusion. Before you post, ask yourself: Am I looking to be seen or validated? Is there something more constructive I could do to meet that need?
Be your authentic self.
In the age of personal branding, most of us have a persona we’d like to develop or maintain. Ego-driven tweets focus on an agenda; authenticity communicates from the heart. Talk about the things that really matter to you. If you need advice or support, ask for it. It’s easier to be present when you’re being true to yourself.
Respond with your full attention.
People often share links without actually reading them, or comment on posts after only scanning them. If the greatest gift we can give someone is our attention, then social media allows us to be endlessly generous. We may not be able to reply to everyone, but responding thoughtfully when we can makes a difference.
Don’t be too quick to judge and react.
You know the old saying: “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? It still holds true today. When meeting individuals online, you should strike up a conversation, get to know them a bit before you judge who or what they are. Just because you are “hiding” behind a computer doesn’t give you free reign to act as you please. You still need to treat people properly. Show patience, kindness and assume others have good intentions before you assume they are malicious.
Share messages about others more than messages about yourself. Retweet other organizations’ posts, share web content relevant to your tribe and post kind words and questions. Celebrate the accomplishments of those who share them with you.
Thank your community.
Whether it’s a donation, a comment on your blog or a helpful recommendation, it’s important to acknowledge the kind gesture when anyone supports you.
What ideas do you have to make social media more positive and loving? I’d love to know.
I’d like to acknowledge Tricyle.com and Exacttarget.com for inspiring some of the above ideas.
My book, The Abundant Bohemian: How To Live an Unconventional Life Without Starving In the Process is out now. You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Abundant-Bohemian-Joseph-Downing/dp/1633370135/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419609806&sr=1-1&keywords=the+abundant+bohemian
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