Did you miss the November 9th celebration of Social Media Kindness Day (see note 1)? This special day honours UK TV and radio presenter Caroline Flack, a woman who took her own life in 2020 at the age of 40.
Leading up to her death, she had become embroiled in a tragic series of events that were discussed at length in social media (see note 2). This public lens traumatised a life that was already impacted by a history of mental health issues (see note 3). Another example comes from the field of ethics and integrity; namely, the near-constant trolling and bashing of Dr Elisabeth Bik. Dr Bik is one of the world’s experts in matters of scientific integrity and image forensics and the cases she works on generate often angry and threatening responses from those accused of data fraud (see note 4). Social media is not all laughs and smiles, rather it also contains aggression, threats and other forms of harm.
Ideally, every day should be Social Media Kindness Day. How do we get there? Posting on social media needs to be a reflective process rather than a reactive process. We suggest the mantra, Pause before Posting. Guiding this reflective principal are two important concepts: kindness and permanence. Constructive criticism and debate are great tools, but trolling and bashing are unkind and hurtful. These latter behaviours are more about the sender than the receiver, and due to the archival nature of the Internet, create a legacy for that sender that is extremely difficult to erase.
Negative legacies can create an Internet image of a person who is cruel, harsh, unprofessional, and unethical. These negative legacies can potentially harm the person’s ability to keep their job or find a new job as an employer can feel their own image is harmed by their employment connection. Other stakeholders include the person’s friends and family. In the heat of the moment, the sphere of influence might seem very small (the recipient of the post); however, in reality, the virality of the Internet makes the sphere of influence innately vast.
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