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Social media conduct - the ugly and what to do about it

Social media conduct - the ugly and what to do about it

I have found myself pulling away from social media in the last year, being more hesitant about posting my own likes, comments, and content, and more disturbed from what I have seen posted. The social media climate today is more aggressive, toxic and intense than it has been in the past. Recently, I watched some videos from both inside and outside the pole community that upset me enough that I wanted to sit down and figure out what it was exactly that bothered me so me. The two causes that I found form the basis of my discomfort are:

  1. Discussions about ethics and moral behavior are more acceptable than they were before. People believe strongly in their moral foundations and argue passionately for their own viewpoints. (Ok discomfort)

  2. There has been a breakdown in civility. People find it ok to treat each other poorly online, in ways that would be much less likely in person. (Not ok discomfort)

How ethics and morals work, and how to change a mind (a summary)


To be clear, I do agree that we can and should talk about inflammatory topics. I don’t think that pushing things under the rug solves any issues. I think we can agree that changing a mind is really hard, especially on issues of ethics and morality. My understanding of how we come to moral judgements is heavily based on Jonathan Haight’s book, The Righteous Mind. He has done extensive research to determine how morals and ethics work and have come about. Haight describes morality with a several great analogies, and the one that fits our situation right now is this:


Haight has concluded from his research that your intuition about moral judgements is like an elephant, and your reasoning and logic is like a rider. An elephant is much larger than a rider, and the elephant is ultimately going to go where it wants to. When any situation arises where a moral judgement needs to take place, your elephant (intuition) will turn towards or away from the situation and you will feel a sensation of yes, this is right or no, this is wrong. The rider (logic) will try and justify with logic why you made the decision. So, his work indicates that in most cases, we JUDGE first and REASON WHY second.


His research has also shown that when we like or trust someone, our elephants (intuition) leans toward them and our rider (logic) seeks reasons to agree and understand. Conversely, if we do not like someone, then our elephant leans away and our rider tries to justify why that person is probably wrong. Given the leaning of our elephants, befriending someone from the opposite side of the aisle is probably the most effective way to change someone’s mind. Let’s give some examples:


Scenario 1: Let’s say that you’re really good friends with someone, and she makes a snippy and probably unwarranted comment to your server at dinner.  Because you love her, your elephant is leaning towards her and thinking that her behavior is not really great, but probably not that bad. Your rider’s justification is most likely something along these lines: She had a long day, is really tired and cranky, and probably didn’t mean it.


Scenario 2: Let’s say you’re at dinner with the same person, and she makes the same comment but you actually don’t like this woman at all. Your elephant leans away, thinking that treating people like that is not acceptable behavior. Your rider goes on to justify your reaction by reasoning that you already knew that she’s a bad person and she just proved it.


If your goal is to stay in positive relationships with others or to preserve the pole community that we talk so lovingly about, and even change the minds of those in the community who don’t agree with you, then my recommendation would be to work on how we treat each other.


How to act online


My romantic partner and I have done a lot of talking and reading over the past year about researcher and psychologist John Gottman, who has studied the interactions of couples and why they get divorced or stay together. He is incredibly prolific, with about 200 peer-reviewed papers and 7 books published on his methods and theories. He’s studied couples and followed the same people for about 30 years, so his studies are large and longitudinal. He can predict, after only 15 minutes of watching a couple interact, if they are going to break up. This prediction is accurate about 85% of the time. That is stunning, and he must be doing something right.


Interestingly, the main reason that people seem to stay together over long periods of time is if they treat each other well. Staying together in happy marriages seems to have little to do with physical attraction, shared interests, or shared beliefs. I would conclude, since physical attraction is not significant in his model, that these same principles of treating each other well would apply to groups of friends and communities as well.


There are 4 behaviors that Gottman refers to as the “4 horseman of the apocalypse” which signal that a relationship Is in great danger. Those behaviors are the opposite of treating each other well. They are:

  1. Contempt - showing that you do not respect the person
  2. Stonewalling - not reacting to the person who is speaking, ignoring 
  3. Turning away - hiding certain aspects of your life or personality from the other, not sharing your thoughts
  4. Criticism - blaming an issue as occurring because of a character flaw of the other person

Rule 1: Decide on your intention


If you do feel the need to call out someone in public, please first consider what your intentions are. If you want to change that person’s mind, then back to the beginning of this article, the best way to do that is to stay in a positive relationship with them.


Now, if you just want to call someone out for the sake of it, I'd like us to be honest and accept that posting that video or comment to is to show others in our community “I’m moral” or “This is what I stand for”, and not a play to change someone's mind. That’s an ok thing to say, and it’s great that you know what you stand for. I just don’t want us to get confused between an effective way to change someone’s mind versus a way to show what team you’re playing for. 


Rule 2: Consider having a private conversation 


Have you ever been in an argument with someone and said “I just wish you would have talked to me first?”. So many things can be cleared up with private conversation. I’ve taken several courses in entrepreneurship and leadership, and one rule comes through in most classes - when addressing an individual: praise in public, critique in private. Critique can cause feelings of defensiveness and shame, and it’s amplified in a public space. I’d recommend a personal and private conversation especially if you have a personal relationship with them already (ex. Have taken a class with them, worked together, or go to the same studio). We also have the Instagram DM, so most of the time you can message people that you don’t even know!


Rule 3: Stay on the issues


If we’re going to talk about issues, let’s talk about issues. I’m going to be much more receptive to your critiques if you talk about “hey I don’t like the decision that you made” versus “I don’t like YOU”. Which do you think you’d respond better to?


Rule 4: Give the benefit of the doubt


Give others the benefit of the doubt, especially on social media, where content is short and often produced in the moment. I would say that most of us, especially in the pole community, do not wake up every day thinking about what we’re going to post later in order to offend others or attack them intentionally. Ask clarifying questions before coming to conclusions about someone’s intentions. We’re a group of good people - let’s treat each other as such. Remember, good people can even make mistakes and still be good people! 


For me, the worst offenders on social media do this blend of issues and people and say both “this is what I stand for” AND “this other person is a bad person”. When those are blurred together, I get really turned off. I might have even agreed with your message, but now that it’s been muddled with attacks on character, it’s harder for me to get behind you.


Rule 5: Only post what you would say to someone’s face


My rule for myself, and one that I’d like to see more of is: only post what you would say to someone’s face. I really cannot imagine some of the conversations that are happening in social media going on in real life. I see all of the 4 horsemen running around, and I can’t believe that it’s going to end in a good place. This rule is a good litmus test of whether something is appropriate or not.


This goes for comments too. If you’ve been in the room when two friends are really going at it, the first reaction that most of us have is to try and smooth things over and ease the tension. The same could work in the comments. We can try to sooth rather than inflame. I would encourage us to try and go that route instead of amping up the situation. 


How PSO is changing


We are going to be updating one of our core values (our rules about how we treat each other at PSO) to “Give the benefit of the doubt”. I think that this is just one of the many ways in which we can treat each other better, and was in my mind sort of wrapped up previously in the value of “Support with encouragement”. “Support with encouragement” was our most poorly defined core value, replacing it with “give the benefit of the doubt” will help to increase clarity on what is acceptable and what is not. 


Before we go, let me say that I am definitely not perfect in my actions with others. I've been guilty of behaving thoughtlessly, passionately, or abrasively, both in person and online before. I'm human, but I'm trying. Writing this post was a good reminder for me of what the ideal is and what I’m striving for. Together by maintaining respect for each other online, we can maintain our healthy and supportive global community.