The time between political seasons seems to get shorter every cycle, especially since the advent of 24/7 news and social media. Any of us who are consumers of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media outlets know this to be true, and we’ve been seeing political messages regarding the upcoming elections or current events pretty much non-stop.
I know many of us get discouraged and downright disturbed at the tone of social media. As Rotarians, we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to craft any messages we send out on social media through a very important lens – the lens of the Four-Way Test.
Oklahoma City Club 29 has been reciting the Four-Way Test during our weekly meetings for more than a year now. What we are doing during the meetings is more than just an exercise – it’s a call to action.
We all should know it well by now. Of the things we think, say or do:
- Is it the truth?
- Is it fair to all concerned?
- Will it build good will and better friendships?
- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
We all know these are important factors to keep in mind in our every-day leisure and work life. These principles especially ring true when engaging with others on social media.
I’m a former newspaper editor and publisher, and over the years I have written hundreds of editorials and opinion columns on many newsworthy topics. I take particular interest in politics and current events, and I always believed it is a newspaper’s responsibility to not only report the news, but to take a small amount of space and provide well-thought-out analysis on certain issues or events.
At times, I would receive harsh criticism for my opinions, and if those criticisms were put in the form of a letter to the editor and signed by the writer, I would publish those criticisms in the next available edition. That’s how it used to work, and it provided an opportunity for all sides to be heard in a constructive manner. Yet, in this day of instant communication, many of the gatekeeping principles we used to ensure civil discourse have pretty much gone out the window.
An expression of opinion – or even fact – on social media is often met with disdain, personal attacks, hostility and even threats. It’s sobering and sad, and to be honest, can make you want to “hit back” with the same vitriol.
As Rotarians, though, if we truly believe and live the Four-Way Test, we can try to make a difference and change the tone of political or social justice conversation in everyday life, and certainly on social media.
Is it the truth? We should all know by now that much of what is stated as “fact” on social media is not. We know that many forces are at work trying to drive fear and doubt. There are ways to verify what is reported or stated as fact on social media. If you are going to engage, please take the time to verify the facts.
Is it fair to all concerned? We all come from certain experiences and backgrounds that shape our view of our community and the world. Yet, as Rotarians, we are exposed to and can understand views that are different from our own views. We can put ourselves in others shoes and show compassion and understanding. Think about that when you seek to engage others in social media conversation.
Will it build good will and better friendships? In my opinion, this is the key to surviving political discourse on social media. Is a friendship really worth expressing your view on social media? Will your contribution enhance the conversation or send it into a tailspin? In some cases, you just don’t know. It’s something to consider before contributing to a contentious conversation.
Will it be beneficial to all concerned? It’s sometimes hard to know when dealing with social media discourse. Still, we have an opportunity to at least try to make our comments constructive, fact-based, fair and non-judgmental. And, sometimes, we have to just walk away.
The Four-Way Test is Rotarians’ call to action to make our world a place where all feel included and valued. It’s a challenge to think ethically about how we do business, talk to others and connect in our personal relationships. I can think of no better way to apply these important principles than when engaging in social media conversation.