This article was originally published in Reel West Magazine, and was republished here to archive it, after the close of the magazine.
It was a dark and stormy night, but the worst of the nightmare was not outside, but on our digital devices. Social media can be a powerful storytelling tool for social good, but it can be equally as destructive a force, especially during a social media storm, as we’ve seen this past October.
With the shootings in Ottawa, one Alberta journalist shared a facebook post on her disgust at a Cold Lake Mosque being vandalized in response to the events in Ottawa. To her shock the post received over 700 comments, not all of which were positive. She found her post was amidst the social media storm caused by the Ottawa shooting, of people guessing as to whom to blame for the events in Ottawa. While for the most part she wanted to encourage conversation, some of it was hateful, so she found herself deleting the most offensive comments.
The same day we sat listening to the opening panel of StoryWorld Quest in Edmonton and heard a panelist address what to do about persistent, negative attacks by an individual online. The well meaning panelist suggested every conversation could be made positive by replying. This had me hopping in my seat, as while this would be lovely if it were true, it simply is not. There are what are termed ‘trolls’ online, who no matter what you say, will only hear what they want, and will persist with negativity. With such individuals, the best thing you can do is to simply disengage with them. I have even at times blocked individuals from our storytelling feeds, when they persisted in responding to our stories in a manner that destroys the story’s enjoyment for both our audience and ourselves.
I was glad I’d addressed this on my panel, as as the conference closed, allegations of sex scandal came out towards Jian Ghomeshi, and Canadian’s social media broke out into a massive storm of ‘he said – she said – we’re guessing’. As a media storytelling prof, I tried to post a middle of the road suggestion, that we reframe from passing judgements and spreading rumours, either which way, before we know the facts. Apparently that was not as innocuous a post as I thought, as debate broke out on my post, and I acquired my own troll. Alas this was not a singular story. If you ever want to see angry Canadians, this was the hot topic. The debate on my Facebook post was mild, compared to most. Further fuelling this storm, and arguably as dangerous as the trolls, were media attention seekers, fanning the flames to get on TV and increased web traffic. The result on Canadians on social media? Feeds filled with anxious individuals.
So what do you do, when you find yourself amidst such a social media storm or under attack by a troll?
- Reply back and see if you can turn the conversation around.
- Erase any highly offensive posts, after taking a screenshot, in case you need it for the police.
- Block repeat offenders.
- Change the story on your feed, by beginning to share different content.
- Click the ‘I don’t want to see this.’ option on your social media feeds, around content that is stressing you out.
- Switch off your devices and spend some quality time in the real world.
It’s not healthy for any of us to engage constantly in a negative environment, so if that is what is happening on your social media, never be afraid to take action to protect yourself and your audience.
On the note of more upbeat stories, feel free to tweet us at @AhimsaMedia, and I am sure we can find some positive Canadian stories to share with you.