Using Social Media as a Force for Good
On my adventures around town this week, I found myself in a conversation with a local parent and the topic turned inevitably to social media. “It’s just all so negative,” she said to me. “Every time you log on, there’s somebody saying something bad.”
“But it doesn’t have to be that way,” I said. “Social media is such a great resource. It just depends on how we use it.”
The problem, however, is that too many people are using it maliciously.
And as much as people want to tell themselves that it’s “kids” — whether they mean teenagers, college students or even 20-somethings — who are being reckless with social media, it’s adults who are irresponsible too. And that’s a shame. Adults should be the ones setting the example.
I find myself coming back to one of my favorite quotes from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout’s neighbor Miss Maudie tells her, “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of another.”
It’s unfortunately all too true an observation. And it’s one that can be said about social media. Social media can be great in the hands of the right person. In the hands of another, it’s a worst nightmare come to life.
Here’s the thing about being hyperconnected: It gives us so much potential as a society. And there are those who know how to use it for good. I know that some people harp on millennials and Gen Z all the time for being hyperconnected and for always having their noses in their phones, but look at how they harness that power. We’ve seen GoFundMe campaigns for good causes collect thousands of dollars within an hour. Young women who might otherwise be told they don’t fit the mainstream definition of beauty will receive affirmation from total strangers who tell them how great they look. A DIYer can learn from a YouTube video how to fix appliances themselves. People can engage in topical conversations and share tips and advice and feedback. In all of these examples, we’re seeing social media be used for good.
That’s definitely not to say everything has to be positive. Not by any means. We would be giving up on a potential benefit of social media if we didn’t use it share criticism.
But where do we end up when things stop being constructive? What do we miss when it crosses the line of criticism and crosses into the boundaries of cruelty? How do we as a society suffer when there’s nothing to be gained by what is said other than some self-indulgent catharsis of giving your unbridled opinion?
You know what I’m talking about, I’m sure — restaurant reviews, customer service feedback or the criticism of school policy, when it’s all just written to bash and debase, when it’s not written to accomplish anything but just to get something off your chest and get the satisfaction of hearing someone else say, “Yeah, I feel the same way!” Before you know it, you have an entire mob of torch-wielder villagers writing in the comments section.
I get that sometimes it feels good to vent. We all deserve to be able to do that! But do it privately.
And when those conversations could be beneficial by being made public, go public with them! But make them constructive. When they are worth having publicly — and social media is a great advantage in that regard — focus on what good can come from these conversations. Focus on what we can accomplish. Focus on how our community or our world can be better because of these exchanges.
More importantly, how do we keep in mind that there’s another person who is reading what you have to say? Someone who might be hurt by your words or whose reputation might be damaged. Maybe even someone who actually values your constructive criticism but is ultimately shut down when faced with aimless mean spiritedness.
I get that it’s hard for us to have this conversation when the president of the United States wants to use the internet to degrade others and put them down, but are we really going to let that be the standard? We can all be better than this. How can we use the power of social media and hyperconnectivity to accomplish something good? How can we use it to change the world for the better? Because we definitely can.
At least, I believe we can. And I’m making a commitment to use it in that way to the best of my ability. I want to use social media to help share great information and make other people feel good and engage in conversations about social issues and, hey, put forth some negative feedback when I think it could be constructive. That’s what we should be doing when we’re all hyperconnected in this way.
Is anyone else with me here?