Editor’s Note: The following article is by Mary Jo Goosmann, Academic Services Administrative Assistant here at NCU. Here, Mary Jo reflects on the potential dangers and the positives effects of social activism on social media, and shares tips on how to navigate the internet respectfully and effectively.
So you’re scrolling through Facebook after a long day at school and/or work, hoping to find some hilarious cat videos you haven’t seen yet or an encouraging word or picture posted by a friend. It doesn’t matter, you’re just tired and need a quick mental break – only 5 minutes, you say – until you get back to your homework. You just watched a great video of a Corgi pool party and you’re still smiling when, uh-oh, there’s that one friend who posted something political again, and it looks like there are a few heated comments to make it even more interesting.
The inner-workings of internet trolls’ minds have always fascinated you so now you’re reading the comments and suddenly your heart is pumping and your face becomes stuck somewhere between extreme disgust and ultimate fear. How can someone think that, let alone say it? You can’t stay silent. Whoever this friend of your friend is, they must be taught that they are wrong and cannot continue believing and spreading these lies to those more-susceptible than thou. You must administer justice!
40 minutes later you’re now involved in a heated argument with someone you’ve never met and your face has solidified into an unidentifiable expression. You can’t type fast enough, so afraid that the anti-human robot (clearly they can’t have feelings if they think this way) will post too many times off of your post, making your arguments look invalid or your confidence in your stance weak.
Well, at least you’re persistent. But do you ever feel good about yourself after these interactions? My guess is that unless you are really striving to put “Internet Cave Troll” on your resume, you’ve only done this one or two times before learning your lesson about why you should probably never have an opinion on deep and/or political affairs ever again. These interactions never really end well and you’re not sure how you could have done anything differently. But you do care about justice, so maybe you should just stick to leaving your feelings off of social media altogether?
I appeal to you: do not give up! Don’t let a few bad experiences or your aversion to making such mistakes stop you from standing up for what you believe in. However, I recommend not taking the Internet Cave Troll career path to do so. Here are some helpful hints for navigating social activism on social media, whether you’re starting a new thread or responding to an existing one.
- Don’t post when you’re angry. This is a great skill to apply to all communication, actually. I use this method: whenever I get upset at something, I open up a word document and write out my argument until I feel like I’ve covered what makes me upset. Then I leave it and go take a walk, eat a meal, or even leave it overnight. When I come back to it later to see if everything still makes sense I generally find holes in my previous argument or things that I know I don’t actually care that much about after some thought.
- Check your facts. Use sites like factcheck.org and fivethirtyeight.com to get a good start. Check the .gov website for news regarding official governmental business and look at more than one news source for the same story to see other perspectives. Even better, check out the same story from a news source that generally writes things you don’t agree with. [CAUTION: beware of overusing this last method of social awareness, as it may or may not lead to heart palpitations, stress eating, and maybe even cancer.]
- Be kind! Remember that other people are human persons. We often forget that other people who have different views are actually quite a lot like us. We tend to villainize them, which essentially de-humanizes them. When we give them credit for having valid reasons for believing what they do, not to mention complex emotions, it makes approaching them with kindness and understanding much more achievable. This means insults, name-calling, and sarcasm are out, while acknowledgement of their stake in the kingdom of God is crucial. (For you to be a good person, not for their salvation.)
- Bonus hint: sarcasm is only tolerable, let alone funny, for people who agree with the statement you are making. Otherwise sarcasm makes you look like a jerk who is only interested in your own egotistical genius for coming up with a better way of exaggerating a situation than your 7-year-old brother would have. Don’t get me wrong, I deal a lot of sarcasm. I am slowly learning, however, that it is not always appropriate, such as with political matters. Sarcasm regarding the deliciousness of kale is almost always appropriate.
- Be considerate. Remember that you might be pushing someone away from being friends with you or, for my fellow Christians, from seeing the light of God through you. This is different than being kind because it is proactive. I think kindness is more personal, while consideration reaches a broader, unknown audience; one that may not believe the same things that you do, but that you hope to still be friends with.
- Have humility. Know that your point of view may seem the only way of thinking about something at the moment, but chances are that you will find yourself in the wrong at some point, or on one side of a multi-faceted problem that doesn’t seem to have just one right answer. Being humble not only retains friendships, it also makes admitting that you are not the sultan of all knowledge of good and evil a lot easier when someone wiser than you proves a point that is better than yours. This is not an “if” but a “when” situation. A good way of doing this is by saying “I think,” and “it is my opinion that,” instead of just stating your perspective like it is written down in the book of life as the only correct answer.
While I fully understand (and support!) not everyone wanting to post their feelings about all of society on social media, I also want to encourage those would be justice-seekers, lovers of people, and politically concerned citizens not to rule it out completely. This is the medium of our time, and if you choose to be silent and/or sugar-coat everything on this particular medium, then it is my belief that you are choosing to do so overall, not just on social media. As much as I don’t like it and I’d much prefer a real face-to-face conversation, I think it’s worth learning to work with since it takes up so much time in our lives right now.
But also have real conversations. With people that have the same perspective as you as well as those who don’t, and with your family, co-workers, and friends. With me, if you’d like! (Although I do have actual work to get done so maybe not all of you.) And do remember to use social media to have fun as well. (Pro tip: this keeps the friend and follower counts high.) Remember, your friends are depending on you to provide witty anecdotes about your terrible homework-to-sleep ratio and a daily dose of cat vs. cucumber videos; I’m just appealing for you to not hide your heart for justice in the midst of it all.
Mary Jo Goosmann