Just about everyday I enjoy plugging into social media to check out the latest viral videos. Recently, I came across two videos that went viral for a short time which caused me to wonder about the motivation for a) recording the video and b) choosing to post it on social media.
The first video was shot in Cocoa, Florida, where a group of teens witnessed a man drowning, chose to record the event and jeer him instead of helping in any way. The second video was a live stream from an 18-year-old’s Instagram account. While streaming, she was driving drunk. She lost control of the car and the accident resulted in the death of her 14-year-old sister. But she kept streaming, saying that her sister was dead and she was probably going to jail. The news story reporting the incident quoted the young woman as saying, “I killed my sister and I don’t care.”
These two shocking and heartbreaking stories confirm that it’s natural to want to share stories. It’s a basic human need as our human nature urges us to communicate. Pope Francis says that to communicate means to share. In the desire to share via social media, the teens involved in these stories made a choice to record and post rather than act responsibly with horrific consequences. The Catholic Church says that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society.
We are all called to be people who live this vision of human dignity, which is at the heart of all human communication, through concrete actions. In regards to social media, we need to take responsibility for the choices we make, what we choose record or photograph, what we choose to post and share with the world. It also means considering the potential consequences of anything we choose to post on other people. Here’s something that might help, especially for adults teaching children. It’s called the T.H.I.N.K. strategy.
In order to be responsible and mindful when we interact on social media, we need to T.H.I.N.K. before we post. In other words, we ask five questions before, during and after we create and share on social media. These questions cause us to think and can help us to make responsible choices when we engage with others via social media. The questions are: is what I am about to create, share or post 1) True? 2) Helpful? 3) Inspiring? 4) Necessary? and 5) Kind? If you can answer “yes” to all the questions, then go ahead and post. If the answer to any question is “no,” you may need to consider that not posting might be the best action.
In the 2014 World Communications Day Message, Pope Francis commented on how true communication needs to be of service to the culture of encounter. He says, “It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness....The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people.”
Sometimes, the negative and hateful words and actions we hear about in our media culture can lead us to wonder about the world in which we live. If we want to change that world, we begin by modeling responsible and mindful behavior in our own social media interactions. By doing so, we empower the young to do the same. Before you watch, listen, create, or post, always ask the five T.H.I.N.K. questions. Each time you do, you have the opportunity to build bridges and enrich society.