Something happens. A natural disaster. A violent crime. An event that triggers intense feelings, possibly fear, anger, dread, sadness, despair. This event and the subsequent firestorm of news coverage forces us out of our comfort zone and demands that we re-examine our understanding of ‘how the world works’.
This ‘something’ shakes us, our community – or our country – to its core.
In the United States, we have been living through these ‘somethings’ consistently, for nearly a year. Beginning with the quarantine orders thanks to COVID19, into the summer where millions took to the streets to protest systemic racism, even into 2021 when on January 6, we sat in front of our televisions and phones, battered by images of people violently storming our nation’s capitol building – these are times of crisis when many of us feel compelled to say something – do something.
Many go right to social media and share their thoughts, feelings and recommendations to everyone and anyone in their audience.
Should we? Should you?
Just as it was during the summer when coast-to-coast protests were commanding our attention, those of us who are active on social media – both personally and for our businesses and brands – are responsible for making decisions about if and how to respond. ultraviolet works with clients and colleagues from around the world at times like this to help figure out the right response – even if that response is to quietly wait and give others the space to speak and be recognized, first.
ultraviolet digital media strategist, Taylor Hori, has developed some consideration points for those of us who do not identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) to consider if we decide to engage on social media when diversity, equality and inclusion issues are the flashpoint for conflict.
- Craft your messages around unity.
- More than words – share your actions. What are you/is your company doing to change or how you value diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
- Example: DEI education for staff, plans to work with more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) non-profits offering direct support to these communities, etc.
- If your company has photos of your staff/board on your website, double check that they reflect these values so your statements reflect your reality and aren’t seen as simply performative.
- Share the resources you’re providing to staff to learn more, process what’s going on, etc.
- Stick to the facts over emotion.
- Example: “This is an interruption to the democratic process and the smooth transition of power,” v.s. “These people are terrorists threatening to destroy our democracy.”
- Pronounce judgement – “This is wrong.” “This is the right way to handle this.”
- Example: “Violence is wrong” may elicit disagreement from some who believe violence is a response to violence that has been served. Over the summer, much of the rhetoric framing conversations about the protests-turned-riots at BLM events was that we cannot condemn the response (in this case riots, looting, arson) of an unheard population. An argument could be made that condemning the violence at the Capitol while not condemning the violence from the summer could be hypocritical.
- Express surprise/shock. While the event can be shocking, our message should not be one of being “shocked” because the Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities have known that violence has always been possible and lived it first-hand. Expressing shock at this time ignores what these communities have been communicating (though often ignored) for decades.
- Do not make sweeping statements like, “This is not America”. For the same reasoning as we shouldn’t hang our message on our “surprise/shock”. Though civil unrest is uncomfortable, including marches and rallies pushing back against systemic racism, this is America for BIPOC and to say “this is not America” just means it’s not your America.
If you want to make a stronger statement:
- Avoid centering yourself unless you are making tangible changes to your business model to be more inclusive or understand our implicit biases (i.e. Taking a DEI course, committing to a strategy to develop content and partner with more BIPOC, making donations to non-profits that center Black lives and are led by Black leaders, etc.)
- For example: “I’m outraged” or “I’m saddened” can be seen as centering yourself in the narrative, ie: being merely performative.
- If you do decide to pass judgement, make sure you can defend your points and – succinctly – explain the nuance of what makes the context and impact of one crisis different from another; for instance, the BLM riots v.s. the Capitol riots.
- Be explicit about differences in reasons/motives, police/military response, who instigated the violence, etc, and why these differences matter to you/your company. This may require some research to prepare and make well-informed, authentic statements.
Ultimately, the decision to respond (or not) to a crisis using your social media platforms is a serious one, and no one should feel pressure to engage without thoughtful consideration.
If you want to talk more about this or anything else related to your messaging, feel free to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org
Feature photo by Tom Mossholder, courtesy of Unsplash