Social Media and Honesty

This is the second of two follow up posts to a liveblog of a panel about social media for nonprofits. Here I’d like to focus on the fact that the internet often brings out the honesty in us: we say things we wouldn’t say otherwise, and very often these are nasty, negative things. Many people think this is the worst thing ever to happen and it means none of us should ever go on the internet and we should totally just accept that that’s how the internet is because duh it’s the internet (hyperbole, hyperbole). However there are some things about this bald honesty that are really positives, and which we should take advantage of.

The first element of this is that it exposes people who are really quite horrible. People feel more free to say sexist, racist, and cruel things online than they do otherwise. It reveals a lot of the things that they are likely thinking underneath but have learned to hide. That means that those of us who understand why these things are inappropriate can call them out and explain what’s wrong with their actions, as opposed to face to face interactions in which they hide their true feelings and we can do nothing about it.

It’s hard to face an enemy who won’t show its true face. If people are constantly hiding their racism but still acting on it in subtle ways, it continues to have impacts but is much harder to call out and change. Giving people a forum to voice their true opinions allows those opinions to be honestly engaged with and hopefully changed for the better.

But the other element of this is that it allows all sorts of unpopular opinions to get into dialogue together: sometimes these are even POSITIVE opinions. We get to hear from people who normally are not allowed to speak: people who practice BDSM, trans* people, people with mental illness, immigrants…all of these honest experiences are put out there to intersect with the opinions we hear every day. And perhaps hearing these true experiences will help those with negative stereotypes to move beyond the simplistic impressions they have of others and find a real understanding of difference.

Sometimes these bald-faced opinions are things we need to hear. Sometimes they’re things we hear all too often but never so clearly stated. But honesty, in my opinion, is rarely a bad thing. It can be difficult to hear and should generally come with compassion, but if we want to improve as a society, we need to clearly know where we are and how people see the world.

Of course being baldly honest when you’re acting as the representative of a company is not the best policy, but individuals being truthful about their opinions will probably help us to understand what the problems in our society are and how to fix them.

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