Welcome to the year 2021, where eight billion of us are trying to figure out how to best work together in a society that only recently was digitally networked. Together we are learning in real-time how this deeply alters our elections, pandemics, journalism, friendships, and much, much more. The most recent cause for reflection is the realization that massive social media platforms can be used to spread dangerous falsehoods and inspire violence upon our democracy’s hallowed halls.
While the social platforms and government regulators try and come up with a compromise around what can and cannot be said. I’m making a personal choice to only share positive vibes with the world.
Recently I came across a public Twitter “fight” between two people in our local startup community. There were claims of right and wrong treatment, with more comments and retweets lobbed in from each side’s followers. A nuanced disagreement came down to a handful of characters and characterizations. Something that normally would be settled with a personal phone call became more like a schoolyard shoving match with fellow classmates cheering “Fight! Fight!”
I watched and wondered…Why? Why are two leaders that have always been positive forces in and regularly give back to the community choosing to put a private spat out for public consumption—to be indexed and searchable forever?
But it’s happening all around us. As I write this Russell Crowe is causing a Tweet storm by the younger generation because a stranger said he didn’t like a movie he made in 2003; people are making fun of the My Pillow guy; and venture capitalists are arguing about which pithy pitch tip is most useful. That’s just the first page of my Twitter feed.
Sadly, I fear that we’ve been programmed to behave this way because we see it happen so often. Social research confirms that in new realms we take cues from others and model our behavior accordingly. Meanwhile, the social platforms we use write rules that further reward negativity. They offer the endorphin rush of retweets, likes and shares for content and comments that engage others, and promote the most active discussions—which is often the snarky digs and angry diatribes.
I startled myself recently by re-visiting an old Tweet of mine. When following a link to a piece of startup advice, I noticed that a leading founder and investor had blocked my account. That was a first for me, and I couldn’t recall encountering the gentleman in any setting. With a little sleuthing I discovered a 19-month old response I made to what I felt was an insensitive comment about Uber drivers.
Looking back on that now I feel foolish. It’s not that I feel differently about his comment, or that I’m worried that I won’t get funding for my venture from him some day. What seems silly is thinking that I can change any minds with a Tweet. Why was it even worth my time to weigh in at all, and then continue to reply? That’s not the man I want to look at in the mirror every day.
Some Solutions to Negativity
It’s natural for we humans to want to share our thoughts, experiences and feelings with each other, and social media is an amazing platform for doing so. Even complaints have some value: They serve as a warning to others, and it can feel cathartic to tell the world how pissed you are at the jerk down the street or the guy in public office. But today’s world has too much negative energy, too much doom-scrolling, too many cheers to “fight” for our side on the playground.
I’ve decided to take all of this as a sign that I need to change how I share thoughts and ideas with the world. So here’s a few things I’m committing to:
Positive Social Vibes Only - I’m only going to post, retweet, share or like positive messages on social media. Each of us is a network node, and when we transmit a message it has an impact, even if only one person encounters it. So that harmless complaint or angry retweet gathers some steam when you click the share button. But that can be used equally for good. It doesn’t mean I’ll only be sharing photos of cute dogs and inspirational quotes. But rather that I will filter my feed and myself for things that make us all better. Already I feel that by looking for the positives I’m appreciating more of the people and world around us, both online and IRL.
Writing > Posting - One of my biggest frustrations with social media, especially Twitter, is that I go to it in search of smart thinking and analysis from leading people, yet too often they provide mere “hot takes” that lack true insight and analysis. The world is too messy for 140 characters, and a lot of smart people end up sounding pretty dumb when they speak in sound bites. That’s why I’m spending more of my time with leaders who write essays or record interviews. I’ve subscribed to several on Medium and Substack, including some that I’m paying monthly for. And this is also why I’m writing consistently again here. I want people to judge my full thoughts on a topic, not just thumbs-up a winning witticism.
This means some new habits for me, and thankfully I’ve got a some social support to keep me on track. A few friends of mine feel similarly and we are trying to keep each other positive. I’m using my personal journal to record negative thoughts and feelings, and using meditation to analyze why I feel the way I do. And, dear reader, by writing this very post I’m public committing to changing my habit. So keep me honest and join me if you’re up for it!
I don’t know what’s next for Twitter moderation or the Facebook news feed, and I certainly can’t do much to control that. But one thing I can choose to control is how I touch the world though social channels. Every voice is powerful—how will you choose to use your voice?