Much has been written recently about the ways that social media negatively impacts mental health and can impede political processes. Research has also shown, though, that social media can have positive effects on people. With both realities in mind, we can reasonably conclude that social media is a neutral tool that can be used for destructive purposes or to strengthen human relationships and personal well-being.
To help foster positive uses of social media, I want to offer three simple questions you can ask yourself in order to use social media authentically while also helping shape the common good of U.S. democracy. The next time you tweet or post, you can use these questions as a tool for deep consideration. They act as an antidote to sharing whatever is on top of your mind — thoughts that might unconsciously proliferate polarization.
Question 1: Around what kinds of human experiences does this post center?
This question invites us to analyze how our post either perpetuates the status quo and dominant ways of thinking or helps to bear witness to often forgotten or silenced perspectives. Unity and justice for all are core democratic principles, and in order to live them out, our posts should reflect the diversity in our experiences. If we post on issues of race, it's good to consider how people of color will be represented in our post. If our post is related to issues of access and ability, we can ask ourselves how various types of disabilities are highlighted or missed in the post. When we share a news article that seems to support "our way" of seeing things, it is wise to consider the story from multiple perspectives before posting, as this guide to Practicing Democracy Online suggests. Before making your post active, ask again: Who is at the center of this post and who will be empowered from reading it? If you're not happy with your answer, refine your writing before making the post active.
Question 2: Is my post self-reflective?
One of the missing elements in many human interactions is the posture of humility and self-critique. Many people assume their idea and opinion is of paramount importance and are willing to fight fiercely to defend it. But no human being is perfect; we all have areas of growth and blind spots. In our posts we do well to humbly disclose the possibility that we may not be seeing the whole picture in what we are sharing, and we can even admit errors or mistakes we have made.
When we lead self-reflectively, we create a space for more honest and intimate conversations that go beyond the surface level and into more complexity. For example, when I have posted on the plight of Asian Americans in the United States, I have simultaneously sought to acknowledge the ways that Asian Americans still benefit from white privilege and anti-blackness, and then I discuss why it is important to live in solidarity with the African American struggle for racial justice.While I am far from perfect in understanding these complex racial dynamics, simply naming and acknowledging the challenges we face creates more opportunity for connection with others.
Question 3: Why now?
One saying that has always stuck with me is that the "right word at the wrong time is the wrong word." We often post things that are burning on our heart, forgetting how the context and timing of the post can shape discourse at larger levels. What if we used social media not just as a personal opportunity to get things off of our chest but rather to engage in cultural conversation around issues that are happening in real time?
For example, maybe you have thoughts about caring for the environment. Rather than just posting about your concerns on a random weekday, consider how this post can be amplified by events that are happening around the world or on days of remembrance. One of the sections of Spirituality & Practice, Naming the Days, features insights from various leaders based on holidays, birthdays, and other events. By connecting the timing of our posts to days like these, we amplify the context and increase the chances of reaching communities we hope our message will impact.
While these questions are simple in nature, they provoke a critical awareness of our own platform. They help us leverage social media for the promotion of healthy community and democratic living.