Working in the wellbeing space with young people, the issue of social media often arises, and I promised in earlier articles on The Wellbeing Hive that this would be a topic that we keep returning to. Our initial piece talked about online respect, and why young people occasionally show different behaviours online than they do in person, and some strategies for this.
Then we talked about the Post Positive Pledge – the movement to really consider what we put into the world on our social media platforms and what we contribute to – to happiness or to fear and anxiety. And most recently we looked at the implications of the documentary The Social Dilemma, which looks at how content is curated for us and the footprint we leave that allows this to occur.
All of these articles feed into our discussion today. There is work here for parents and schools to do together, to ensure a kinder world, and a safer, fairer one for everyone.
When issues on social media arise in schools, one of our primary concerns is the education of the young people involved. The more you look at the influence of social media and group mentality and the pressure to live up to almost impossible standards, the more we see that everyone is a victim, and few young people really understand the online world and the lasting implications of their actions there.
The truth is, everything we put onto the online space is what was once aptly described to me as a “digital tattoo”- long-lasting and hard to get rid of. And with this in mind, we need to be very selective about our behaviours online.
What we post becomes a part of our identity – and our online identity is something of interest to a wide variety of people including prospective schools and employers. I have certainly used social media to check on applicants in previous workplaces, and found my image of the person who presented as clean-cut and reliable in the interview is coloured by the kinds of pictures they post and the kinds of pages they follow. These have always been an issue, although as times move on, online behaviours change as well, and new behaviours need to be considered. Today I would suggest adding new things on the list to be conscious of. The first is oversharing – those times when we voice our frustrations online. These might be personal or professional – but they give the idea of heightened emotional states and at times, an inability to see what is and isn’t okay to express publicly. And despite privacy settings, we cannot pretend the online world isn’t public.
The second I might suggest is the rise of the meme – those funny pictures we share so readily but occasionally have a tendency to be quite risqué in terms of humour. The issue with humour is of course that not everyone will find it funny, and the simple sharing of an image, if not carefully considered, has the power to offend even without intention.
The sophisticated nature of memes also means that sometimes they tap into concepts not fully understood by young people, and they may find that they have posted something that is much more controversial than they intended.
Many young people recognize the need for privacy or for judgement in these spaces, but others will argue that what they post is their personal business. This is true – but then we must also defend the right of others to be offended or turned off by what you post. If we can post what we like, then people can comment as they please too – and judge as well. Any time we communicate, we must recognize that it is a two-way street – what we put out there and how others respond to it. We can only control what we ourselves do in each space.
This includes when we are the reactor. If something offends you – there is a way to react appropriately. But we rarely think before responding – especially when it is so easy to respond online – much easier than having a conversation in person. In person we consider the feelings of the other person more – and are likely to be more delicate and diplomatic as the reaction occurs in front of us. How we respond is also likely to be judged – were we kind and mature? Or did we react thoughtlessly?
How does it feel to know that every comment you make on a picture or a meme or a status is public property? That it can be viewed long after the post and perhaps even long after your views may have changed.
This is an excellent conversation starter for parents as well as wellbeing and careers programs in schools. We can encourage young people to look at their recent online history from a more critical perspective – pretending they are a friend, parent, a teacher, or a prospective employer. How would all these people see their posts and comments? This is interesting food for thought – and an interesting lens to view through before posting or commenting in the future. A thoughtless reaction, a misunderstood “in joke” and even a poorly placed “like” can cause serious damage to friendships and to your reputation.
Young people also need to remember that the online space isn’t just about what they actively post, and how you react to others posts, but what you passively take in.
What about the pages you follow? Engaging with an account that is inflammatory, discriminatory, prejudicial or even just tasteless can also damage relationships and reputations.
While freedom of speech certainly exists, as does the right to a sense of humour, are you really conscious of how people might view your following of certain accounts?
Much to ponder, and many discussions to be had in this space.
Perhaps now is a time to reflect on the elements OTHER than posting – commenting, liking and following. What do these say about us? As it is so easy to ignore or unfollow, these are conscious choices we are making too. Are we aware? Are you happy with the idea of how that might be perceived?
Want to take the conversation further, why not read more below:
Photo by Marlin Trottman from Pexels