The Internet can be a dark mirror to society’s mood. And if social media is any indicator, the current mood is negative. Across all content platforms, especially Twitter, there are armed camps firing word and image missiles at each other. This only produces more negativity.
The internet behaves like a Greek chorus, chiming in with an opinion on Fergie’s National Basketball Association All-Star Game National Anthem, banning of bump stocks for rifles and what the Kardashians are naming their latest baby.
The groupthink can be snarky, funny and even inspiring (remember the Ice Bucket Challenge?). But sometimes it turns ugly. Just ask any of the female gamers who have quit social media to escape outright persecution.
The amazing tools of the big social platforms have given a megaphone to everyone, yet often, it’s the haters who use it the most. It’s time to, in the words of entrepreneur Gary Vanyerchuk, “make positivity louder.” Everyone who shares content on the Internet has a role to play in the conversation, and that includes you.
The big social platforms are taking steps to quiet the most egregious content. Twitter recently enacted some changes to decrease the presence of bots and hateful posts. Facebook is talking about how it can become a better social citizen, as well. But that’s technology. The real solution lies in the hearts and minds of society, including you.
Here’s how you can do your part to bring more positivity to your own social content.
Remember, ‘Garbage in, garbage out’
This saying was originally intended to apply to computer analysis. In other words, if you use junk data, you’re going to get junky results.
But this same principle applies to your own content consumption. If you’re feeding your mind a steady stream of angry voices, you’re going to end up angry.
Simply shift what you’re feeding your brain, and you’ll find that your own content will shift, as well. Consider taking a break from the “mean tweets” and put together a Pinterest board of things that light you up. Consider unfollowing some of the most strident content. Several of the social networks give you tools to “mute” others temporarily, so you may not even have to completely unfollow someone if they’re just going through a pessimistic phase.
Step away from the screen once in a while
According to Psychiatric News, spending too much screen time with social media can be a risk factor for depression. Depending on which sites you use and whose content you’re reading, you can spiral into a negative pattern of anxiety and unfocused attention.
If you turn off the screen for a portion of the day, you can get face time with living, breathing humans. Then, the next time you go back to sharing content, you’ll have a fresh outlook and can post something positive or interesting rather than just reacting to the negative stream.
Don’t sit in an echo chamber
Of course, we are all drawn to conversations that reinforce our own beliefs, whether they’re negative or positive. Are you spending too much time in the negative side of the house?
Step outside your comfort zone with empathy and engagement, and listen to “the other side” once in a while. Follow some people you wouldn’t normally meet in your day-to-day life. Resolve to contribute thoughtfully to the online conversation, rather than just echoing the ideas around you. It’s OK to disagree with a point of view and still be respectful and positive.
Respond to anger and meanness with kindness
This is a tough one, but it has the biggest ripple effect. Have you ever complained to a manager about a poor customer experience and been turned around instantly by a kind response? You can do that. “Turning the other cheek” is exceedingly difficult, but the benefits to society are huge.
The next time someone hurls negativity at you online, try defusing it with a positive response. Sometimes humor works in a situation where a blog comment or a Facebook reply has gone to the “dark side.” You can also reflect back with words that show you’re listening, like “What I’m hearing you say is …” Many negative posts are the result of someone lashing out, feeling ignored or trivialized.
Remember that your online self is you
Don’t let the allure of anonymity allow you to treat people differently than you would if you were eye-to-eye. Studies have shown that anonymity can bring out the worst in people, even if they are normally nice in person. Something about hiding behind the keyboard unleashes our worst impulses.
Every time you sit down at your computer to write a blog post, comment or social message, bear in mind that it represents you. Make sure that your online persona is the same kind, caring, positive person we’d meet if we bumped into you in the street.
The bottom line is that we are all responsible for the collective tone of online content. You may not be able to clear the garbage from the entire “social street,” but you surely can sweep your own front doorstep. Take some time today to contribute something positive.
Rosemary O’Neill is co-founder and CEO of blockchain-based content and social network Narrative.