Be Kind Online: How to Make Social Media Better

If you ask me, we’re all acting like stone-throwing monkeys on social media.

That sounds really critical, and it is, but I’m no different. I’ve gotten in my share of arguments, even fights, online. I’m throwing stones along with everyone else, but I am going to put down my weapons.

I think we do this because we’re afraid.

We’re angry and afraid for our own reasons and the bitter political divide has either become the outlet for our anger or the cause of our fear. I’m not sure which is more accurate, but I am sure that social media is amplifying all of this misery.

In fact, it’s so loud that I frequently hear stories of families who have stopped talking to each other because of interactions that either took place on social media or are made worse by social media.

I don’t want to live in a world where grandparents aren’t allowed to see their grandchildren or brothers and sisters aren’t invited to Thanksgiving because of shouting about abstract issues.

Do you?

What should we do about it?

Digital Kindness

I’m not the only person thinking about drama of social media. Lauren Hug wrote a book about it called Digital Kindness: Being Human in a Hyper-Connected World.

I love talking with Lauren. We don’t always agree on everything and we have different viewpoints on many issues, but she listens carefully and responds thoughtfully.

We discussed several questions in an interview on the Autosearch USA Facebook page, including two points that I want to write about here.

Relationship or Right?

Pop quiz! Which sounds more like you?

A.) My relationships take precedence over my perspective. I am willing to ignore differences of opinion or even change my opinion to maintain my relationships.

B.) I find it difficult to have relationships with people who don’t share my perspective. I love and value my friends, but my view of right and wrong is informed by higher principles (secular or religious) that I must stick to.

I’m not going to suggest there is a right answer to that question. Both are valid perspectives and have been explored in other contexts.

For example, Rabbi Ethan Tucker wrote a series of essays entitled “Pluralism, Integrity and Community” for the Jewish community. We struggle with the balance between different perspectives on Jewish law and the very high importance placed on relationships by our tradition.

Rabbi Tucker argues that these are actually three points on a triangle, pluralism, integrity and community. Since it’s a triangle, we can’t have all three at maximum strength.

I would argue that this is the same problem we are seeing on social media and it’s exacerbated by fear of the future.

We won’t solve it by winning everyone over to one side or another. We will solve it by agreeing to settle somewhere on the triangle.

The Reduction of Social Media to Politics

During the interview, I told the story of how if I post about nothing but chickens and urban homesteading then I find myself in awkward situations.

For some reason, people would make an assumption that my love of poultry meant that I held a particular political perspective. I wouldn’t have cared except that sometimes someone would send me a mean meme or vent about a conversation while assuming I was going to agree with them.

How embarrassing for everyone!

When I told Lauren this story, she responded with a comment I hadn’t expected!

“The reduction of social media to politics is making it far less vibrant!”, she said. “We need to stop assuming everything is political.”

She’s right! I’ve been focused on the bitterness and the division of our country as expressed on social media and I completely forgot about all the wonderful things going on online.

For example, I must belong to several hundred groups devoted to everything from newborn baby lambs to encouraging others on their entrepreneurial journeys. Like most people, I’ve encountered life-changing ideas posted by others online.

People do everything online that they do in person, including good things like collaborating on projects and exploring the nature of humanity.

Experience Instead of Opinion

Lauren suggests that we could make much better use of social media by talking about our experiences instead of our opinions. We have a lot of experiences that would bring us together as people and we have the power to share them.

“We have agency,” she explains. “We blame the platforms for dividing us, but the algorithms are only giving us more of what we are putting out there!”

She’s right. We are not powerless and we do have the ability to shape our online interactions by changing what we ourselves are posting.

So before you make your next post or comment online, think about whether what you are about to say is going to enhance your experience online and your interactions with others. Is it going to give you more of what you want in your life?

Or is it going to disrupt your life?

I know this isn’t new to you because it’s the same process we go through when talking to someone in person. We filter what we say to shape the interaction.

We all have the power to shape our lives and if we use it online as well as offline our lives will be better.

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