The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Social Media

A message from Doug Worner, Partner at Conscious Collaborative.

10 years ago if you used the phrase “social media” you would probably have received some strange looks and comments from people.  Today you could hardly go anywhere and find someone who does not know what this phrase means. Whether it is FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr, Reddit, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Quora, Vine, Periscope, BizSugar, StumbleUpon, Delicious, Digg or Viber, the chances are pretty high that the person you are talking to will have heard of or already use several of these social media platforms.  

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Social Media: The Good

There are many viable uses for social media. I have family members who are living long distances from other family members who use social media to stay in contact.  It is a great way to share pictures and even videos. And makes communicating much easier. This means we can stay more connected with family and others and experience things we might have otherwise missed.  It is also a great way to build and establish new friendship and keep up with important human rights news.

American Friends of Magen David Adom is a good example of a human rights organization that is saving lives.  From there FaceBook page:

Magen David Adom is Israel’s ambulance, blood-services, and disaster-relief organization, serving as emergency medical first responders for the state’s more than 8 million people. MDA is the only organization mandated by the Israeli government to serve in this role, but it’s not a government agency, so it relies on people like you for funding. Through your gift, you’re saving lives.

Many human rights groups use social media to get the word out about injustices.  It is a great way to get news alerts. And, for some companies, it serves as a great channel for digital advertising.  And social media has served one area close to my heart, disaster relief support. Social media has and continues to play a vital role in communicating during and after a disaster.  From FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency):

Social media plays an increasing role in how people communicate. Whether in the middle of a disaster or in everyday situations, more are exchanging information by using the Internet, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube or using apps such as WhatsApp and Snapchat.

People with smart phones can download FEMA’s mobile app to receive weather alerts, safety reminders and preparedness tips, disaster resources including open shelters and to submit disaster photos to help first responders. Learn more online at fema.gov/mobile-app.

Emergency management officials are aware of social media trends and are adapting to the new communications outlets in order to reach a larger audience of all ages.

Many local emergency managers in Florida provide social media outlets for community members to look for information during disaster response and recovery phases.

FEMA has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FEMA and an Instagram page at www.instagram.com/FEMA. Also, FEMA Region IV—which includes Florida—has a Twitter account at twitter.com/femaregion4 where important information is posted. In times of crisis, they help share critical information with Twitter alerts.

https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2018/04/16/social-media-and-emergency-preparedness

There are also many non-government disaster response organizations that now use social media to aid in support efforts.  Christian Disaster Response is one example of a disaster response organization that is doing just this.

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Whether it is an advocacy group, an environmentally conscious startup, or a social media influencer who shares information about sweatshop free clothing, social media gives us the opportunity to express ourselves and better the world.  But as it is with most things you will also find some who will use it for inappropriate or even nefarious reasons.

Social Media: The Bad and the Ugly

We’ve all heard the stories right?  A disgruntled person posts something about someone on social media thus causing this person to lose their job.  Or, worse yet, one or more people start attacking someone to the point where this person commits suicide. Social media can offer a lot of anonymity.  Which means people will say and do things on these platforms they would never say or do in person. This is both maliciously and purposely intended to cause harm and also a very cowardly act.  Most social media platforms do a fair job at screening these individuals. And they usually end up getting banned and in some cases have legal action taken against them.

In order to combat against this we need to have accountability.  Heidi Cohen lists 10 ways this could be achieved:

  1. Know that your audience consists of real people with broader, more diverse backgrounds than you can imagine. Each individual brings a unique perspective that you might not have considered previously. At a minimum, they deserve your respect for giving you their attention.

  2. Don’t react in haste. In online interactions, people tend to disassociate themselves from the person to whom they’re communicating. We don’t think about the person at the other end when we talk with our fingertips. As a result, people often express opinions that they wouldn’t on the phone or in person. Count to ten to give yourself space to think before you respond, especially when your feelings are raw.

  3. Appreciate that online actions are permanent and can’t be reversed. There is no Undo action for a sent message. Moreover, the Internet never forgets. Any message sent can come back to haunt its sender, usually when it’s least desired.

  4. Understand the context of interactions and content presented. Don’t respond to partial messages. Don’t let your feelings rule. Put the information in perspective and be sure you understand it before responding.

  5. Don’t judge an idea’s quality by the syntax and grammar in which it’s expressed. With a broad audience, the people with whom you engage may not be native speakers of your language or have similar levels of education. Don’t let this detract you from the core of what they’re trying to communicate.

  6. Consider what you’d say face-to-face or in a live group. Don’t blindly follow the group. As your mother taught you, show a level of civility and an understanding for where others may be coming from. Remember you haven’t walked in their shoes.

  7. Don’t spread gossip and hearsay in your quest for your fifteen seconds of fame. Make a positive contribution to the public discourse.

  8. Check your facts before you contribute. Your audience knows more than you do and will call you out for factual errors. Wikipedia is an example of the combined intelligence of the mass. While one person may not be an expert on everything, together they’re very smart with lots of fact checkers who aren’t afraid to correct you.

  9. Stay on point with your contributions. Social media is a conversation, not a lecture. Leave space for others to broaden the discussion and make it richer. Remember it’s a conversation held in a public forum. Be polite and play well with others.

  10. Don’t be self-centered. Don’t bore others with your me-me-me focus and/or promotion overload. It’s the fastest way to clear a forum.  The sweetest thing a person can hear is their name and your sincere interest in them.

In Conclusion...

No one can predict the future of social media but with the ever increasing digital world we live in it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.  There can be a real polarization in how social media is used. For good, can be really good...for bad, can be really bad. I’m hoping that as more social media platforms implement ways to keep its users accountable we will see much less of the bad and much more of the good.