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Becoming A Good Social Media Citizen

Are you a good citizen?

Most people, when asked this question, would say, “yes.” Me, included. But the more think about what this actually means and how this translates into my online interactions, I wonder.

It’s important to know what it means to be a good citizen, not just in the “real world” but also in our online world. After all, we probably spend as much time, if not more, engaging with our online communities as we do our local communities.

In order to determine what it means to be a good citizen online, we must first think about what it means to be a good citizen in general.

Do you remember elementary school? The Citizenship award was a big deal for me and my classmates. It was probably the one that made our parents smile the biggest. In addition to citizenship being an award, it was also a grade…an actual grade! Anything less than an “A” in citizenship was not acceptable in my book. But how did we get evaluated? I cannot remember exactly, but know it had something to do with minding your manners, being kind and helpful, and following the rules (and encouraging others to do the same.)

However, that definition did not precisely translate into adulthood. Being a good citizen as an adult goes deeper and requires much more. It’s about contributing to the place in which you live in a positive way. It’s about participation, collaboration, and connection. Being a good citizen requires a common understanding of what helps and hurts a community and striving together to do the things that build it up and stand against things that tear it down. Civil discourse has always been one of the key ideas that we hold dear as part of living in a peaceful society. What does that mean? In short, “engaging in conversation to increase understanding.”

But somewhere along the way, civil discourse has been replaced with a lack of conversation and contemplation and more contempt-building. We can’t even agree on what would make our communities better which makes it harder to be good citizens. This is true especially online.

It is much harder to engage in real conversation to enhance understanding when it is easy to just post something and then scroll on or switch to another app. We aren’t willing to dive deep into the comments or hop into direct messages to learn the perspective of others. We are busy building our individual walls instead of breaking down the barriers between us.

It’s easy to blame the social media apps for this, and certainly the algorithms and platforms do contribute to creating chaotic communities, but they are not the only ones to blame. Just as we have a responsibility to live with each other in our local communities as contributors, collaborators, and connectors, we have the same responsibility online. We are responsible for building the community we want to be a part of online. We may not be able to control every aspect, but we can control how we contribute. We can control how well we collaborate with our fellow online citizens. We can connect with others in ways that encourage, share, and build others up.

Don’t you want to be a good citizen? I do. I want to change the world and, increasingly, that world includes the online communities in which we spend our time. But I can’t do it alone. It’s going to take all of us to make a difference. Won’t you join me? Sign up for encouragement and inspiration on how to take control of your social media and build the community you want.