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Social media: Where’s the thinking these days?

Organisations and individuals alike need to think carefully about the implications of their online interactions.

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Something exciting, tragic or significant has happened. Twitter is flooded with tweets and retweets relating to this news. Facebook is overloaded with images and links to more information. People are commenting, clicking, sharing, liking, posting and, in some instances, even trolling.

The rise of social media has given people access to news as soon as it occurs, and within minutes everyone seems to know about it. Nowadays, it also seems everybody wants to have their say before the story has had time to develop and the facts emerge. People are often responding quickly to a situation, rather than thoroughly looking at information and considering perspectives before posting their views online for the world to see.

So, where is the thinking these days?

Sherry Turkle, an Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor in the Program of Science, Technology, and Society at MIT says, “As we expect more from technology; we start to expect less from each other… With the speed of technology and pace for which many people respond, do they really consider and think through the potential consequences of what they are conveying?”

There are many cases that demonstrate a lack of thought before posting provocative articles or opinions online. For instance, while the tragic death of actor Robin Williams back in 2014 was respected in the sense that adoring fans and fellow actors posted tributes across various social media platforms, some individuals chose instead to post insensitive attacks.

American musician and writer Henry Rollins experienced a severe backlash after posting an uncompromising blog criticising Robin Williams’s suicide. The Saturday Morning Herald responded to this blog by stating that Rollins was “….almost universally damning.”

What’s more, Robin Williams’s daughter, Zelda Williams, was tormented so badly by internet trolls that she chose to delete her Twitter account altogether for a period of time.

If people such as Rollins had really taken the time to empathise with not only Zelda, but with other people sensitive to the issue of suicide, then perhaps there wouldn’t have been so much negativity directed towards Zelda.

And the ill-thought out use of social media isn’t exclusive to individuals.

These days, more and more companies are using Facebook, Twitter and the like as an affordable and effective means of promoting their products and services, and engaging with their consumers.

Unfortunately, this can be a double-edged sword, with many examples of organisations not thoroughly considering the consequences of their social media interactions. As such, organisational activities online have the potential to backfire in spectacular fashion.

Take for example the now infamous #yourtaxis campaign that caused a social media storm for all the wrong reasons towards the end of 2015.

In the face of increasing competition from popular ride-sharing app Uber, the Victorian Taxi Association invited Twitter followers to share positive stories about their taxi experiences. Instead of the anticipated flurry of supportive anecdotes from satisfied taxi riders, the hashtag quickly became hijacked by unhappy Victorians who took the opportunity to vent. Stories of sexual inappropriateness, homophobia, negligence and the seemingly all too familiar practice of drivers refusing an unsatisfactory fare soon overtook the Twitter-sphere. It was a PR disaster that unfolded in broad public view.

Everyone, companies and individuals alike, need to put their thinking hats on before posting anything online.

Edward de Bono’s ‘Six Thinking Hats’ is a model that provides a way for groups to plan thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive way. It encourages decisions to be considered from multiple perspectives, forcing people to move outside their habitual thinking style to get a more rounded view of a situation.

Try on these 6 hats

Before you make an important decision about an online interaction, you may want to try on all six of the following:

1. White Hat

Gather your facts and thoughts before making an informed decision. Make sure you consider past information and research, as this will steer your future research.

2. Red Hat

The Red Hat refers to your gut intuition. Listen to your heart, be in touch with your own emotions and try to empathise with others.

3. Black Hat

Consider and outline the possible downfalls or weak points in your decision, proposal or idea. This can help you eliminate problems before they occur.

4. Yellow Hat

When you put on the yellow hat, you are maintaining an optimistic approach to your idea, and thinking about all the benefits that could arise as a result.

5. Green Hat

The Green Hat encourages creative thought and thinking outside the square. Innovative and imaginative ideas can take you far.

6. Blue Hat

The person wearing the blue hat is often the leader of a group. To be an overall great thinker, you need to be organised and in control of processes occurring under your guidance–or simply just organised in your own progress.

As Robin Williams himself once said, “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” In an age where social media has made our words and ideas more accessible to other people than ever before, this notion has never been more pertinent. And neither has the need to make sure we give ourselves that extra bit of thinking time before we click the post button.

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