Social Media: Constructive Exchange of Ideas
By: Sarah Wheeler
Take a peek at a message board beneath any online article and you get a pretty revealing look at social media and this little tribe of ours known as humankind. First, you have people from across the globe instantly communicating their opinions and insights. They exchange links to more relevant information and even establish interpersonal connections with like-minded folk – it’s downright neighborly. Now pan down a few posts, that’s where you’ll catch your first whiff of conflict … It usually starts with a simple difference of opinion and then gets upgraded to a level-10 ruckus just a few more exchanges down the ladder.
There you have it, everything we love and hate about social media – nothing major, just the whole world present and past, placed at your fingertips, with all borders and filters removed. Welcome to the technological revolution! It’s huge, it’s powerful, and it’s the most sweeping social experiment ever. These are the kinds of rushing waters you want to be caught up in, but only if you have the skill and knowledge to properly navigate the maelstrom so it works for your purposes not against. And therein lies the challenge. How do we become mindful of the unwritten laws of social media and of course the potential minefield of human interaction, so we can enjoy and benefit from our social media engagement?
Social Media is a great way to share our thoughts, speak-up when we feel strongly about societal issues, express ourselves creatively, or to share the ups and downs of our daily life with family and friends. The opportunity to have meaningful dialogues and to cultivate change has been tremendously impactful in my own life. On a daily basis, I am learning and sharing with my social media friends and discussing what matters most to us. But as you may know, the word “friend” takes on a totally different meaning in the context of social media. For instance, I have 600+ online friends. Of those, I would personally count on to rescue me out of a bind would be less than 20. So for me, the idea of formulating bonds on social media to work through pain and conflict towards social change can be challenging. But I also know that for many of us, it can be a valuable and rewarding step to take. The question is, how?
Creating “Intentional Communities” might be the answer. They help bring people together to talk about specific issues in a comfortable environment. The goal is to break down societal divides, and recognize the things that we all have in common. Within these communities we can safely seek out people who are different than us, who bring in new ideas, and who may challenge our own views. That type of constructive push back is a good thing. But you must not be too one dimensional in your thinking or get discouraged by others who are. Many people have no idea how to deal with conflict. They are cemented to their worldview and can’t imagine any other opinion. New perspectives can cause them to freak out, put up walls, or go on the attack. These types of attacks are actually reflections on the attacker’s personal issues more than the viewpoints of the person who wrote the original post.
- Gladwell, in his book: Blink: The power of thinking without thinking, introduced “the four horsemen of relationships”: Defensiveness, Stonewalling, Criticism, and Contempt. He demonstrated how they can predict, with 95% accuracy, which relationships will last and which will not. It’s a safe bet that these same behaviors would apply to online community relationships as well.
To avoid the pitfalls of the digital version of the four horsemen, you must always be aware and mindful of your reactions. If they start reflecting some of the horsemen’s narrow-minded, selfish attitudes, you must work to reestablish a respectful and open dialogue, and to assess your interactions from multiple possible perspectives. It can be challenging in the freewheeling environment of social media where etiquette is still very much a work in progress. Plus, we are emboldened by the anonymous nature of social media to say things that we would never say in person. Just remember, behind that goofy avatar, funky screen name, endless emoticons, and forests of exclamation points, is a living breathing human, just like you – always post or comment with this in mind. And before you submit your thoughts, consider whether or not you’re contributing to the community to benefit the members and make it a better place for the constructive exchange of ideas. I hope you are, because that is the true magic of social media, empowering each other to grow individually and collectively.
Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. New York: Little, Brown and