Social media discussions too often disregard context. As a result, the conversation (if you call it that) descends into the abyss of warring tribalism, bias and ideology. Parties on both ends of the spectrum are at fault. We read comments and react; knowing nothing about who it is writing them. We take everything literally based on our perspectives formed from our unique set of experiences that make up our lives. Rather than looking at ourselves – we blame social media calling it toxic. It’s toxic because we’re the ones making it that way. What instead of just jumping in and spewing our own proprietary elixir of venom; we stepped back and tried to look at where that comment we’re reacting to comes from.
We seemed to be conditioned to automatically respond; and it’s not just on Facebook or Twitter. Knee-jerk reaction is the norm in our physical world too. What if we controlled ourselves and did a quick cerebral deep dive into who we were interacting with. What if instead of jumping into a discussion and making judgement calls; we first thought about what might have formed the opinions this person has. But this can only happen if we know something about them – and have a way of getting it.
Unfortunately much of the time little information is available to us. Aside from LinkedIn (which really isn’t a discussion platform), for those on other platforms, mainly Facebook and Twitter, where the majority of conversion happens – profiles often contain little access to background information. There’s no locations on where they’ve lived or even live now, nothing on the type of work or type of company they’ve worked at – or not even a personal statement that isn’t so cryptic that little can be gained without any other context. I’m not looking for a resume … but, jeez – help me out a little. I know there’s not a lot of space, especially on Twitter – but that doesn’t mean a link to more can’t be available. [Disclosure: my bio is pretty cryptic, but a simple click on a link and you can find out everything you want to know about me in this blog :)]
The first thing I do when engaging with someone on social media is to look at their bio and then delve deeper into their background by investigating any links they may provide (Mention of certain things are an automatic red flag for me and I disengage, or don’t start in the first place. I won’t get into what here). Just knowing the country where someone lives gives me insight, especially when discussing deep social and political issues. Context is everything. Even in the United States nothing should be taken at face value (i.e gun control or why someone supports Trump). Someone who’s lived most of their life in Montana (where I currently live) will have a completely different life view and set of societal norms than someone from Los Angeles (where I used to live). I encounter this stark reality everyday.
For the sake of disclosure and context, I should mention I spent fifteen years as a headhunter. My livelihood was dependent on how well I knew my candidates. I looked not only at resumes, but at their families, their dreams and the real reasons why they were talking to me in the first place. Nothing could be taken at face value; references were checked and motivations critiqued. That said, doing a deep dive in someone’s background, even on social media, is a core function of my modus operandi.
While I shouldn’t expect everyone to behave the same way I do, based on a background in recruiting; but I hope some would at least like to try if the information was available to them. I don’t know why so many people don’t disclose much if anything about themselves. I suppose it might be a privacy issue – more than likely laziness though. That’s cool. But then again those with least available background on themselves (including going anonymous) are some of the most prolific commenters – with some of the most intriguing things to say. Someone who wishes to be known as a contrarian can make a much stronger case if its taken in their personal context.
The rise of social media can be looked at as a societal double-edged sword. On one hand it brings people from all over the world together to discuss issues that affect all of us. But what good does it do if we don’t know who these people are and how they’ve come to have the views and articulations they wish to have us hear. So instead of bringing us together, social media polarizes us because comments on controversial issues are taken out of context. Rather than gaining empathy and expanding our minds – we dig in our heals even more.
While all this might seem laborious for just social media. But if we really want to take this incredible phenomena to the transformative place it can go, it’s a lot less laborious than just wasting time regurgitating our same old positions based on our same old set of experiences – blind to nuances of the backgrounds and experiences others around the world.
Look beyond the comment to lives behind them.