This snarky social media behavior really got to most of my students, especially since there were unifying and inspiring alternatives. They were happy to see people use social media to encourage voter turnout. As ABC reported, there were over 6.4 million tweets about the election on November 6th and Twitter reported an average of 3,000 ‘I voted’ tweets per minute. But by 10pm on November 6th these uplifting messages were completely replaced by diatribes from all sides.
We find ourselves in a new environment of civic and political participation with novel openings for engagement, and that can be an exciting and a concerning reality.
As my students made clear, while we learn to use social media as tools for discourse, we need to be mindful of the quality and tone of our conversations. Courtesy and respect seemed a little lost last night, but I love that my classes are noticing this and asking: How do we encourage civility in and through our online civic engagement?
One answer is we use the same platforms to say, “Hey, let’s elevate the conversation!”
My friend, Rhett Smith, a marriage and family therapist who knows a thing or two about coaching graciousness into interaction, posted this on his Facebook feed today, and I loved what he had to say:
Usually when a couple or family is in therapy with me, I try to help them listen, communicate and interact out of their “best selves” — try to help them be adults. If we can’t be adults in relationships, then we probably can’t have very successful relationships (i.e. tons of dysfunction). I wish we could all do a better job of acting out of our “best selves” and be adults with one another online and in our social media interaction.If we look at what we posted online this week on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest or a blog, or whatever — can we answer “yes” to the question, “Were we being adults and acting out of our “best selves?”Ok…I don’t like soapboxes, but this week was a bit depressing to watch what took place relationally online with people.
As we adopt social media as important platforms for expressing and weighing public opinion, we need to act and treat each other as adults — even though it’s easier not to when our interaction is electronically mediated and we don’t have to see a humiliated or enraged face staring back at us. Nonetheless, we must exhibit respect in our digital discourse, otherwise we will damage relationships and turn people off from what we have to say.
I’m reminded of the following quote from Os Guinness‘ book, The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It (2008, 169):
“If we would like a society of truth, freedom, justice, and decency, we must be people of truth, freedom, justice, and decency. If we would like our views and our deeply held faiths to be understood and respected by those who differ from with us, we must understand and show respect to them and theirs.”
And it may be that in order to encourage civility we need to lovingly call each other out on our bad behavior, like my friend Rhett.
So friends, please, let’s speak/post/tweet/tag kindly and thoughtfully. Thank you
Do you have other ideas for elevating the tone of our online civic engagement?