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The Role of Kindness in Social Media

January 20, 2017

be kindThis year social media sites have seen an influx of negativity beyond all reason. Some is over the election, but also over the news around the world of violence and hate speech.

It’s created a content crisis for social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, where hate speech and fake news is rampant. This has led to reforms in the rules on these networks to try to stem the tide and identify fake news as well as hate speech. Social media sites upped their moderation policies, but sometimes even that backfired.

A tool called Hoaxy popped up recently to help track fake news stories on Twitter, and it’s pretty shocking to search just about anything to find wild tales have been shared hundreds or even thousands of times. Some are true, but the pack mentality against “the other side” fuels spreading these posts without consideration. Then things escalate and get ugly.

Social media is about being social
Social media sites offer us an amazing opportunity to learn from people from different walks of life, cultures and belief systems with an open mind. A mind that is open to understanding and has empathy for others around the world, and being kind to those we may not fully understand. We may not always agree, but if we respond with negativity we’re driving the conversation down a rabbit hole it may not recover from.

Let’s try kindness
Next time you’re triggered by someone’s social media post, stop.  Be thoughtful about your response.It’s easy, perhaps lazy, to pop off a witty retort, but are you fueling negativity? That’s only going to result in more negativity reflected back at you.

  • Take a breath and notice how the post makes you feel.
  • Think about the answer you want to dash off.
  • Is it something you’ll regret later?
  • Exercise your ability to take the high road to be kind, even in a difficult situation.

Other people face the same challenges and want the same things for themselves as we do. They want to be happy, healthy and feel safe, just like we do. The practice of “loving kindness”, also known as “Metta”, is one of the foundations of mindfulness practice. Metta practice is a sincere wish for the welfare and genuine happiness of all beings, without exception. Some say that feels frivolous, or “woo woo”, but the effect of practicing Metta can be dramatic.

A study in 2014 at Yale and Michigan State Universities (Kang, Gray & Dovido, 2014) discovered that, compared to a control group, those who undertook 6 weeks of loving-kindness meditation training significantly decreased their biases against minorities.

In a study conducted at Stanford University by Cendri A. Hutcherson, Emma M. Seppala, and James J. Gross, one short period of loving-kindness meditation increased the participants’ acceptance of and feelings of social connectedness with strangers.

Ninety-three participants who meditated for no more than 30 minutes a day (if at all) were trained in brief meditation exercises. Participants began with the instruction to close their eyes, relax, and take deep breaths. They were then instructed to imagine two loved ones standing to either side of them and sending their love.

After 4 minutes, participants were told to open their eyes and redirect these feelings of love and compassion toward a photo of a stranger appearing in the center of a computer screen. Participants repeated a series of phrases designed to bring attention to the other, and to wish them health, happiness, and well-being. They were then asked how connected, similar, and positive they felt towards the people in the photos.

Even that one session of loving kindness practice was enough to impact their feelings of both explicit and implicit positivity toward strangers. The results suggest that simple kindness practice can increase positive emotions towards others and that we can, indeed, train ourselves to feel connected with and act kindly toward a relative stranger.

How do you want people to see you?
Even if you don’t  practice loving kindness meditation, there is still a need for you to practice kindness. Your brand is represented in tiny fragments all over the web. A moment of unkindness, taken out of context, can lose you your job, a loved one or the respect of a colleague. Context is so important, yet the image of who you are, and what you say or do is almost always taken out of context, especially on social media sites.

People get a glimpse of who you are in a mosaic of bits and pieces from various networks and websites. Photos your friends and frenemies alike share on social media become part of that image. A search of mentions of your name, your company or product can quickly show you what people are seeing (use Incognito in Chrome to get an unbiased look).

Why not practice kindness in your communication? Sooner or later that kind attitude will seep into your persona in real life too, and you’ll find that kindness is repaid with kindness in return. Wouldn’t that make the world a better place for all of us?

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  1. This post is like a breathe of fresh air 🙂 People should read your piece Jane. Social media is becoming so harsh these days. And it’s engagement is becoming more automated than genuine. Being kind and sincere is really something that everybody should start practicing.

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