Anyone who has spent significant time on social media can attest to how quickly things can become negative – even toxic.
One minute, you’re going about your day – maybe sharing your enthusiasm for the latest TV show you’re addicted to – when all of a sudden, a stranger rocks up into your mentions to have a go at you and your (apparently) atrocious taste in telly.
It’s become pretty obvious over the years that regular (non-branded) content that elicits outrage tends to end up in our feeds more than we’d like.
Yale published a study in 2021 that showed that this sort of content gets more ‘likes’ and has further reach than posts that don’t make us angry. People are incentivised and rewarded to post and share negative content. And it’s making us all miserable.
Outrage and anger can be powerful motivators for change, but they can also lead to the spread of online abuse, harassment and bullying.
Kindness might seem like the obvious solution – we could all do with being kinder on social media. But kindness also has its pitfalls.
Sometimes, people use abrasive-sounding language because they need to be heard and they have justifiable anger about an important issue – in these circumstances, telling them to “be kinder on social media” can sound like tone policing (ignoring the point they’re making until they make it ‘civilly’).
So, how can we be kinder on social media and still be inclusive and respectful of others?
- Assume that most people have good intentions. If we’re in a poor frame of mind, it can be easy to read a hostile tone into a neutral post and react as if we need to defend ourselves. If our social feeds are full of bad news and people being mean to each other, it’s even easier to assume the worst of people. By giving people the benefit of the doubt, we can stop ourselves from posting something unkind in response (and so continuing a cycle of misunderstanding).
- Agree to disagree about trivial things. A lot of unkindness on social media is down to people clashing over opinions about their likes and dislikes. If someone’s very excited about something, like a TV show, replying to their post to tell them why you don’t like the show isn’t necessary. We’re allowed to enjoy different things, and no-one needs a mood hoover coming along to kill their vibe.
- Try to avoid cliques. This is especially a problem in fandoms. You’ll find people group together into cliques with those who they feel are most like them, and who share their opinions on controversial issues. But, while it can feel like you’re protected, it’s really easy to develop an ‘us vs them’ attitude to sections of the fan community and get into conflicts more easily. It’s something that can result in inciting pile-ons that can be really harmful to people’s mental wellness.
- Set boundaries with your social accounts. Social apps are adept at using FOMO to keep you scrolling or going back to see your replies. It may be healthier to pick times to check your social accounts and try to ignore them the rest of the day – this way, you aren’t exposed to too much recycled negativity.
- Be mindful of the algorithm. When you see a post that really annoys you, the best thing you can do is ignore it. (Unless it’s harmful or abusive, in which case, report it.) By engaging with it – maybe by posting an angry reply or firing off a sarcastic quote tweet, you’re making that content more relevant and extending its shelf-life.
- Cultivate your social media experience. Mute, block, unfollow, go private (or create a private account), use Twitter Circles and Facebook Lists to limit who sees certain posts. You don’t have to see content that upsets you, and it’s not unkind to curate your social media space.
- Ask yourself if your comment would add anything to the conversation. When someone is accused of posting something insensitive on social media or they’re in the middle of some sort of controversy, you might want to reply to their tweet or quote tweet with your opinion on it. Try to remember that your comment is one of potentially thousands – you could be adding to a pile-on that could be really hurting the person being bombarded with them.
Kindness isn’t about being meek, and it’s not about telling other people how to express themselves in their social spaces.
Kindness is about respecting other people’s mental wellbeing, as well as your own.
It means being honest with yourself about your intentions and knowing when it’s best to take a step back.
It’s very easy to rush to post a comment on social media – everything moves so fast, and we often want to get our opinion heard – but usually, it’s best to approach our social media interactions with empathy.