Consider your lasting online legacy

 

During the tumultuous events of 2020, who of us did not engage in at least one heated debate with a friend or relative on social media?

And how many of us would admit to saying things with a vehemence we wouldn’t adopt if we were having a conversation face-to-face rather than online?

Pro-lockdown, anti-vax, and everything in between, in times of crisis people’s natural desire to make their voices heard is multiplied.

Perhaps we feel we have more agency over our destinies if we have an opportunity to say how we think things should be.

Social media exists to allow us to share our perspectives, and often vent our spleens, in real- time at the touch of a few buttons.

It is an easy avenue for the ‘rank and file’ of society to say their piece.

It is also, in the context of the amount of time we’ve been communicating with one another as a human race, a completely novel mode of connecting.

We are evolutionarily wired to cooperate and, in essence, be nice to one another.

Many studies have shown that groups and societies that care about the wellbeing of all of its members, and build systems to protect them, fare better than those that pursue individualistic benefit.

The rules of social engagement and social etiquette provide a framework for behaviour that enables this cooperation and ‘niceness’.

But over a third of all Australians report experiencing online harassment, and just under a fifth say they’ve been subjected to it in the last 30 days.

Women and people of colour are much more likely to experience it, and where those demographics intersect, the volume of abuse can be colossal.

The BBC’s Gaia Vince wrote, ‘The internet offers unparalleled promise of cooperation and communication between all of humanity. But instead of embracing a massive extension of our social circles online, we seem to be reverting to tribalism and conflict.

'Why do so many people abandon social rules online and give themselves fairly unrestrained scope to say what they please? Social media offers very little by way of traditional communication signals that encourage us to ‘stop, think, consider do you really want to say this?’

In fact, it reinforces the opposite by offering anonymity, distance and very little punitive risk, and is devoid of institutions which provide behavioural guideposts.

Social media also rewards emotion and outrage, and statistics say that each moral or emotive word in a tweet increases its chances of being retweeted by 20 per cent.

In other words, social media enables and rewards us for behaving in ways that contradict the social norms we’ve built over thousands of years.

Health professionals are not immune to perpetrating or being on the receiving end of bad online behaviour. But unlike others, health professionals are bound by a code of conduct and the primary goal of doing no harm.

Moral imperatives aside, from a practical perspective, online behaviour impacts our personal brands and the reputation of our workplaces.

Many organisations have taken action against employees who engage in questionable behaviour on social media—even if their comments are made in their private hours using their personal accounts.

The lines between our private and professional personas are blurred in the virtual world.

We also aren’t as anonymous as we think, and our digital footprint will outlast our natural lives.

What we say in the heat of the moment today is part of our digital legacy for years to come.

We can all choose a legacy of cooperation, kindness and constructivism, as we do in our offline lives.

 

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