A New Year's Resolution for Social Media

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If you are considering a New Year’s resolution, might I suggest that you resolve to improve the way you participate in social media. With every new communication technology there is a period of time between its arrival and when our culture catches up with appropriate social boundaries for its use and we are right smack in the middle of that gap with social media. Over 800 million people check Facebook every day but I think that, even despite all the practice we’re getting, people still haven’t figured out how to use social media well.

For example, I think that a day will come when we will look back on the cell phone etiquette of the early twenty-first century and cringe. Our grandchildren are probably going to think that using a cell phone in the bathroom as a bad thing. Even today, we know we shouldn’t interrupt a face-to-face conversation to read and respond to a text but we still do it. Social media has only been around for ten years and it is becoming clear that not all of it is bad but not all of it is good either. I believe it is important to understand there are Four Levels of Social Media Communication .  It’s not that one is better than another, it’s just that we need to guard against getting stuck in one mode of communication.  We need a variety of communication levels.   If you look at your twitter feed or your Facebook news feed you will find almost every post will fit into one of these categories.

Level 1: Sharing Other People’s Moral Outrage
level 1This is where someone shares a link to some website or commentary where someone else shares what they’re against. These are outrageous, offensive, sometimes hilarious posts that usually feature a “click-bait” titles like: “You won’t believe what this girl did!” “The government doesn’t want you to see this.” It is the cheapest form of social media use because it doesn’t provide any insight into how you, the media user thinks. You are sharing a provocative comment or story without sharing what you think about it. It is easy to be outraged – and sometimes we need to be outraged – but it doesn’t give your readers/friends any insight into how you think. The problem is that if you’re not careful, you get stuck at level one and never move on to level two.

Level 2: Sharing What I Am Against
level 2Like level one, this is a post or blog entry where I share what I am personally opposed to or upset about. “When are they going to fire that coach?” “Of course my car won’t start on the day I have a job interview!” Grouch, simmer, complain. Now don’t get me wrong! There is nothing wrong with sharing something that has your knickers in a knot. This post you’re reading is at least partly operating at level two. Again, the problem comes when you get stuck here. Too many social media users live in level one and two and never get past it. They are always posting what ticks them off, or what makes them mad, or the latest junk media source of outrage. You know you’re stuck when you can’t find anything to write otherwise. You point out problems and can’t give any suggested solutions. You can’t find anything to be positive about. Eventually two things happen. Your friends quit reading your stuff (ain’t nobody got time for that!) and it starts to change the way you see the world. When all that lights you up is what is wrong then guess what you are going to start to notice? We all need to get past this level and move to richer, more meaningful communication. Don’t just tell me what you’re against. Tell me what you’re for. What do you agree with? You’ve told me about the problem, what do you suggest we do for a solution?

Level 3 is Sharing What Other People Are For.

level 3bIt differs from level one because it engages not just the problem, but also a possible solution. Level three social media communication involves sharing things that other people support. It might be a blog article that someone writes that captures what you affirm about a particular issue. Maybe it’s a video with some inspirational thought, or video of people helping complete strangers. It’s a richer than level one because it doesn’t just troll the depths of what is wrong with the world. It starts to look at what is right. Sometimes level three posts suggest a brave new step forward for you. You might gain a new perspective on poverty, or marriage, or God by reading what someone else affirms. The only thing that is missing in level three discourse is that it still doesn’t share what you are all about. The personal response is what’s missing and that is what level four is all about.

Level 4: Sharing What You Affirm.

level 4Level four is the richest kind of social media communication. It is where you share not just what you have heard other people support (Level 3), not just what you are outraged about (Level 2), not just what others have complained about (Level 1). Level four is where you share what you personally appreciate or support. Last month a bunch of my American friends shared something they were thankful for every day of November leading up to Thanksgiving day. I say, “keep it going!” I loved hearing my friends from down south share how they are thankful for their spouses, their kids, their jobs or just everyday little stuff. Now, it did start to get a bit shallow, but it was a welcome diversion from griping about Obama, bringing guns into Starbucks, Gay marriage, etc. One of my favourites is a woman who shares, not every day, but once or twice a week something about her husband that she appreciates. It is encouraging, sometimes funny, and I get to know my friend a little better by reading it, and that is what Level four is all about.

Level four is special because it is a genuine sharing of yourself. It is something that you believe or love or appreciate and as a result it reflects a little bit about what you are all about. This is where social media has real value. Before Facebook and the Internet, this is the kind of insight I would never have into the lives of my friends who live at a distance. I wouldn’t get to read about them and their lives. I would miss all the moments, good (Level 4), and bad (Level 2).

So what I am suggesting is this: take a look at your use of social media and aim for a balance of positive (Level 4) and negative (Level 2). You don’t have to live in denial and pretend that everything is perfect. But mix it up a little bit would ya? I think we all get stuck in a rut from time to time and need to be reminded that it’s not all good and it’s not all bad either.

Posting stuff other people have written both negative (Level 1) and positive (Level 3) is fine but it would really help if you included what you think. If you are going to post someone’s outrage about Duck Dynasty, include a suggestion about what you think A&E should do. Tell me, your reader, how you would have responded to the GQ interview question. That way we don’t all get stuck throwing other people’s words at each other.

As one of my professor’s is fond of saying, “let’s raise the level of discourse.” In 2014, let’s resolve to be a little more vulnerable in what you share online and tell others what you think, and in response, let’s be kinder and more gracious to each other.

NCW

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