In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a societal reckoning with systemic racism, and a looming presidential election, the vibe in the United States as of late is best described as incredibly tense. One implication of this is that social media—specifically as it pertains to posting from your own account—has basically become a minefield of sharing the wrong thing, at the wrong time, potentially causing harm to followers (even if unintentionally), or otherwise inciting a negative reaction. To be sure, there is a lot to consider and specific questions to ask yourself before posting on social media right now.
For example, people have differing opinions on face mask protocol (that is, some people have the wrong opinion—just wear one) and on what constitutes appropriate social distancing. Knowing people have different opinions, is it insensitive and potentially triggering to others to post a photo of you having what you consider to be a socially distant picnic with a friend? And let’s say you use signal boosting on social media as a practice to share information and fight systemic racism. But if you follow-up a post in which you share information on the BREATHE Act with a photo of you at the beach, will your efforts in allyship come across as nothing more than empty virtue signaling?
These examples and innumerable others are valid concerns that can give you posting paralysis, which in isolation may feel like no big deal. You can simply just opt to not post, right? But the spiral of anxious thoughts centered around self-doubt and self-loathing will likely do little to serve you. To help save you from the mental-anguish rabbit hole and help you engage with social media in way that doesn’t stoke a pattern of anxious thinking, you can take a beat to soul search about whether what you’re about to share really needs to be shared and what you hope to gain from the choice.
To help you pinpoint those answers, Chrysalis Wright, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Central Florida who specializes in media behavior, shares a few questions to ask yourself before posting on social media.
Below, find 4 questions to ask yourself before posting on social media right now, according to a social media scholar.
1. “Where did I get the information I want to share, and is it accurate?”
If you’re sharing an article or another person’s informational social media post, first pause. Double-check what the content is saying to ensure that it is verifiable and from a credible source.
“Consider your sources and ensure that they are reliable and credible,” says Dr. Wright. “Do some fact-checking before sharing or posting on your social media.”
2. “Why do I want to share this?”
Next, Dr. Wright suggests you introspect to identify why this post particularly important to you. What is your emotional and personal connection to it? Is it a moment or a subject that you really want to honor? Or is nothing more than a thirst-trap photo of you looking great while drinking margaritas (no judgment, been there)? Assess why what you’re posting matters, and if the root of it seems unimportant or in bad taste, you might want to hold off.
3. “How can I phrase what I want to share in a respectful manner?”
There’s no hard and fast rule to govern what tone is the most appropriate and what tone isn’t because what it is that you’re posting matters. That said, unprovoked intensity is almost certainly not the way to go. For example, if you’re posting a mask-off picture of yourself, you don’t need to go on a defensive two-paragraph diatribe defending your choice because in doing so, you’re inviting in conflict.
“Try to avoid emotionally charged posts,” Dr. Wright says. “Proofread your message before posting to check your tone and expression.”
4. “Am I prepared to receive backlash from my post and defend it and myself, if necessary?”
Make peace with your choice to post whatever it is that you’re posting. If you can sense the content may be controversial in some way, emotionally gear up to handle the response you may receive.
“You should be prepared to receive negative feedback and comments on your post,” Dr. Wright says. “Can you handle that emotionally, or will it lead to you engaging in a heated non-constructive debate?
Furthermore, even if a resulting debate or discussion is constructive, that can be time-consuming, stress-inducing, and emotionally draining. This isn’t to say such discourse isn’t valuable, but before posting, make sure to ask yourself whether you are prepared for feedback. Will you be able to reply to others in a manner that is respectful but still gets your point across? If not, wait until you are in a more measured headspace.
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