Social media platforms, as effective as they are at keeping people connected and giving brands a way to build awareness and trust, sometimes (too often) become hostile environments. People vent and launch virtual attacks against one another when they don’t share the same views. From religion to sexuality to sports to politics to just about everything else...online brutality ensues as friends, neighbors, family members, and casual acquaintances express their thoughts about other people’s thoughts.
Adding to the tone of dissent on social media are people who make a fuss whenever something doesn’t go their way. I can attest to this after managing the Facebook page for a local non-profit that hit a major milestone with an annual community event this year. One of the much-beloved activities had to be canceled due to thunderstorms, and the outrage voiced online was outright astonishing.
Indeed, the atmosphere on social media can get ugly. And when that negativity becomes prominent, it’s disheartening.
But there’s hope.
A Story of Social Media Going to the Dogs (In a Good Way)
I’ve personally witnessed the positive power of social media when, several weeks ago, it drew people in my community together to help find and bring home a friend’s runaway dog.
On Wednesday, October 10, my friend Sheena’s mom called me at approximately 8:30 in the morning. Sheena’s one-year-old rescue dog, Tigger, before Sheena connected her to a leash, became spooked by a noise and ran away. Despite Sheena’s efforts to call and chase after Tigger, the terrified pup kept running.
They asked if I would keep my eyes open and spread the word. As Sheena and her mom were walking and driving around downtown Ephrata trying to find Tigger, I quickly published a post on Facebook, asking anyone in and around Ephrata to watch out for the dog and tell their friends.
Over the next several days, as Tigger was on the loose, my Facebook post was shared 720 times by my Facebook friends, Sheena’s friends, and friends of our friends. Through that exposure, along with help from another Facebook page “Help Find Sophie” and a special page set up by Sheena to centralize communications about Tigger, Tigger’s family had assembled quite the search party. Good Samaritans who learned of Tigger’s plight through Facebook were messaging, calling, and texting about their Tigger sightings.
As I was taking walks and drives and conducting stake-outs in key sighting areas, I was amazed at how many people on the streets told me they heard about Tigger through Facebook. Eventually, I think nearly all of Ephrata knew about her—even community members without Facebook were in the know because their family, friends, and neighbors told them to watch for her.
As the days passed...Oct. 11, 12, 13, 14...Tigger’s family continued to learn about sightings. As scary as it was that she wasn’t yet safely home, it was reassuring to know that she was alive and hadn’t ventured out of the area.
(You might be wondering, why didn’t Tigger go to anyone who wanted to help her? The poor pup was in what experts call “survival mode.” Anyone and anything was—in Tigger’s mind—a predator. She even ran away from her own family members when they had seen her from a distance and called to her.)
Finally, after a sighting on the morning of Sunday, October 14 led to a 5-hour stake-out in a cornfield down the hill from my home, Tigger was corralled in Sheena’s direction and got close enough to recognize her.
The rest is happy history. Aside from some dehydration and cut up paws, Tigger wasn’t too worse for the wear. Recently, Sheena shared with me that Tigger is doing well—understandably, very clingy and afraid of the outdoors after her ordeal—but otherwise recovering nicely.
“Paws” for a Moment to See the Positive
Over the months and year to come, social media will likely test the patience of all of us as the 2020 presidential election approaches. It will bring out the bad and the ugly in people. Friends, relatives, and business colleagues will engage in digital warfare as they spar to have the last word. A fair share will unfriend and unfollow each other in the heat of the moment.
However, amid the chaos and cheap shots, you will find evidence of social media’s potential to unite people and offer support and encouragement. If the bickering in your news feed discourages you, don’t feed the beast. Instead, focus on instances where you can lift up others or lend a hand. Social media is what we make it. Will you let the tail wag you, or will you wag the tail?