“Together, we have the power to protect the most vulnerable among us.” There never was a truer, more urgent call to the world’s social media users. It’s from Nadia Goodman, TED’s social media editor, in a blog post about the digital aftermath of posting the video of Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk in the TED site. [This is a followup to my post on Sunday about the talk, which has gotten nearly 2 million views within a week of being posted.]
Nothing prepared Goodman for the aftermath, she writes, describing an “outpouring of negativity.” She added: “As I read hundreds of hideous comments, I suddenly realized I was being subjected to a tiny fraction of what Monica has experienced every day since she was 24 years old, essentially every day of her adult life.”
Then Goodman describes exactly how we turn this around: social norming. Participants in that thread of comments on the Lewinsky talk page showed us how it’s done. The “upstanders” – a word used by bullying prevention experts, and by Lewinsky herself, for bystanders who stand up for the person being victimized – stood up. Brave people who had positive things to say did so. The conversation on that TED page changed. And that’s how cruelty gets marginalized.
“When we clearly show what is and is not acceptable, the tone does change,” Goodman writes. “People who want to share thoughtful comments start to feel that theirs are welcome, and people who want to spew hatred start to realize theirs are not.”
So back to that call: “Together we have the power to protect the most vulnerable among us.” “Together” is key. In social media, the solution to social cruelty is social. We need to crowd-source kindness. So let’s get going with that! [Thanks to Amy Jussel of ShapingYouth.org for reminding me of a long-ago post I wrote about how this works. Here‘s more on the power of social norms and why they’re needed in social media. But maybe it’s intuitive, don’t you think?!]
- Maybe commenters on the New York Times site are nicer than the TED site’s (doubtful), but a similar piece at the Times about digital comments to its story about Lewinsky’s talk reinforces the possibility that the online-harassment tide has turned. “Most of the response was positive,” writes Times reporter Jessica Bennett. As I wrote in the article, it was almost as if a kind of public reckoning was under way. People were being … nice.”
- In her 2010 TED Talk, Joan Halifax, a Buddhist roshi who works with people all over the world in the last stage of life (hospices and death row), says fear is one of “the enemies of compassion,” along with pity and moral outrage. She also says that – though compassionate people feel others’ suffering more than those who don’t cultivate compassion – they are more resilient. Compassion (or empathy) and resilience, along with the social-emotional learning that fosters them, are two qualities we’ve identified as protective in digital environments (where facial expression and other visual cues are absent); they’re the internal safeguards I’ve suggested with which we need to bring external safeguards into balance, because the external ones are the safety tools and measures societies have almost exclusively focused on for digital safety – along with messages of fear. As Halifax indicates, spreading fear doesn’t help cultivate the compassion that improves lives and environments (including digital ones).
- “All kids deserve the safety & other benefits of social-emotional learning”