What NOT to do when raising awareness online

What NOT to do

I did a post recently about getting beyond “slacktivism” and actually posting on social media in a way that is impactful. Today, I wanted to dive a little bit into what NOT to do. When you’re a person like me who cares a lot about a cause, or even many causes, it’s very easy to get worked up and start posting things that make you feel good and use some activist language, but are not actually effective at creating social change. Here are a few examples of things that might make you feel good, but do not actually do anything to improve the world we live in.

#1: Sharing posts that do nothing but make you cry.

We’ve all been there – your friend shared something in your Facebook feed that is so moving, it brings you to tears. It could be the story of one person’s struggle with violence or abuse, or a disease, or any number of issues. Maybe it’s pictures of abused puppies or kittens. Maybe it’s babies. You may care deeply about whatever is being portrayed, but before you share, you have to think to yourself: what does this actually contribute? Does this article or video actually share some new information? Does it incite people to take some kind of action? Or does it just upset you? If it just makes you feel bad, but doesn’t provide any hard facts or tips on what you can do about a problem, it is not part of the solution.

#2: Insulting people’s character (regardless of whether they are actually racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise terrible people).

It was a while back that I found this brilliant video about how to tell someone that something they said sounded racist, but I think it bears repeating, and also that this same approach should be taken with things that sound sexist, homophobic, and otherwise bigoted:

The key is, that even if they are actually racist/sexist/an awful person, you want to make your argument clear about their behavior and not derail the conversation into one about their character. Jay Smooth says this is because the conversation about the behavior is an easier arguement to make, but I would even take this a step further. I think that by pointing out their behavior, you are actually targeting something that they can change. Saying that what they said was offensive gives them the chance to think about why that is, and might make them think twice before they say something hurtful again in the future. Calling them a name, on the other hand, is not going to make them introspective and is unlikely to lead to any kind of behavior change (besides just getting them mad).

#3: Falling for viral marketing gimmicks.

Viral content sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy rarely will direct you to a charity or activist site that will actually help you to make a difference in the world. Instead, these sites rely on gimmicks to get you to click on more of their content. Even though they may borrow activist wording, these sites are most interested in getting you to spend more time on their page – valuable time that you could be spending posting on social media in a productive way or actually volunteering for a charity. Next time you see something on your feed that says “If you do not share this post then you have no heart,” just say to yourself “It’s not that I don’t have a heart, it’s just that I also have a brain.”

#4: Reposting something without checking to see if it is true.

I know I’ve addressed this in my last post about social media activism, but it bears repeating: a lot of things that people share on the internet simply aren’t true. I know when you see a particularly interesting fact, your first instinct may be to run and share it with all of your friends, but before you do that, do look it up on Snopes first. You don’t want to be that guy spreading misinformation.

#5: Letting the trolls get you down.

The internet is a large place full of people with all sorts of crazy opinions and beliefs. I think we’ve all made the mistake of spending countless hours arguing with people on the internet who we believe are wrong. No? Is that just me? Well, just in case I’m not alone, this is what I learned from that experience – even if you took #2 on this list to heart and are arguing using only the facts and no character assassinations whatsoever, you still might not get through to them. If the person you are talking to is not listening to your points, and is just repeating the same arguements over and over again, it might be time for you to lay down your weapons (which should be facts, and not literal weapons) and agree to disagree. Remember – the winner isn’t the person who got the last word. The winner is the person who actually did something productive with their time.

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