Doctor Neha: Hi everybody, this is Katie and that’s Blake over on the other screen. We’re here today to talk about social media and the communication that happens over social media. When Katie and I were discussing this topic, we thought we better bring in Blake because he’s the expert on social media. Since we really enjoy communication, what would it be like for our world and Blake’s to come together for a dialogue around the importance of social media: how we use it, some of the dangers, and some of the rules that you talk about we found really profound. Welcome.
Blake: Thank you. Welcome to you as well, even though you’re the lead.
Doctor Neha: Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about who you are and what you do? Then let’s get into a little bit of a conversation and see if we can help people with the miscommunication that happens on social media.
Blake: Awesome. Well, my name is Blake. The easiest way for me to summarize what I do is I appreciate people. I enjoy doing it in innovative ways and sometimes old school ways—like writing thank-you cards—and people don’t expect it for sending messages on social media. Just to say some kind of compliment, which is what led to this conversation right here. I was acknowledging Neha for one of her awesome videos that she does. One of the domains of my work is with companies and colleges. And another one is with elementary school age students and high schools. The elementary school work I do is entirely around a program called My Life Online, which teaches kids to be safe, smart and kind online.
My business partner and I built the program because we felt that since social media is where young people spend so much time, it’s a great opportunity for kids to appreciate each other in the context of social media. It’s another one of the vehicles for appreciation in my world of work. Our work is all around social media and how young people are beginning their lives online, knowing that it is something that reflects them forever, so why not begin in a way that sets them up for success? So that’s a little blurb about the big picture of what I’m up to and how My Life Online fits into that work.
Doctor Neha: I love your clarity about what your true vision and purpose is, what you value most, which is the appreciation of others, and that social media is one medium in which you can express that with one group of people. So that is powerful.
Katie: I remember when we first looked at your website, both your personal website and My Life Online, both of us looked at each other after we watched that intro video and we had tears in our eyes. We were really moved by your work and seeing the reaction from all the kids. It’s really powerful. So that’s why we’re so excited about it.
Doctor Neha: A lot of parents are doing the best that they know how, but they didn’t grow up in the era of social media. They are in an era that they don’t understand fully. So do you find ever that people’s first instinct is to restrict their kids? “No, not that!” or “You can’t do that” or “That’s terrible.” Or do you find most people are pretty open?
Blake: The first response is to restrict their kids. It buys them time. With social media, parents restrict their kids from getting their own phone or opening up an Instagram account because it gives parents a bit of a window to go learn more or to observe more or to talk to other parents about what they’re doing with their kids. With social media, it’s kind of like trying to stop a tidal wave. It’s not like learning to drive a car. Parents have driven cars and they think, I can teach my kid how to drive a car. Cars are a bit different now, but I got this. Social media isn’t even like alcohol and drugs. Most parents have some context for alcohol and drugs and how it impacted their life, so if that comes up with their kids, they can speak to it. Social media is so new on so many levels and it becomes newer and newer and newer every day, so to keep up with it at any age is difficult. But if parents of young kids today can buy themselves some time before their kids enter this boundless ecosystem of people, relationships and conversations, that is why they restrict their kids as long as they can. They want more time to learn as much as they can before they say, “It’s OK to open up your own YouTube account.”
Doctor Neha: It’s really interesting that you say that because a topic that Katie and I have talked about and that I’m writing about in my second book is around transparency. The Internet came and gave us instant access to each other, but it didn’t necessarily give us true connection with each other. So there’s a difference there that people should be paying attention to. It’s a big gift that gives us access, but it definitely doesn’t guarantee true connection.
Once we got the Internet, then it turned into social media. We already compared ourselves to people, but now we’re comparing ourselves to the highlight reel of someone else’s life. And what I’m noticing now in the world is we’ve changed presidents, we have different philosophies going on. One president moved more from his head, using thought and logic, and another one is moving more from his heart and emotion and using social media. What is being revealed right now is that we have created all this transparency (like doctors who used to be in charge of their patients now getting yelp reviews back from patients on the Internet) and we have lost control of the norms that we used to use.
The problem is that we have not educated this generation or any generation in the emotion that comes with honesty, transparency and real conversations. Does that make sense? It’s like we don’t know how to handle when somebody starts writing things that are hurtful online. So what people do is go into anonymous mode and start writing from a place of hatred, a mind-set of You don’t know me so I can spew all this stuff out.
Blake: All along, since the beginning of time, people talk behind each other’s backs. Honestly, now it continues because it’s part of human nature. A lot of times while people are having those conversations behind another person’s back, odds are high that their hands are on their phone. That’s extreme real talk, unfiltered speak. He’s going into a device and what he says or writes might actually get back to that person either on purpose or accidentally. I don’t think we’re equipped for that because it never used to get directly to us. It lived behind closed doors or behind people’s backs. Now it comes into our cell phone when we might be in the middle of a work meeting or in the middle of meals. It’s completely out of control. It’s like a dart into our domain of emotion. Some people are really good at dealing with that, and a lot of people aren’t. We have to deal with the outcomes of that.
Doctor Neha: What I would say is I’m going to have a beef with you on the idea that other people didn’t find out about backbiting before social media because I’m Indian and every Bollywood movie is about everybody talking about each other. It’s like I would start a conversation with Katie like this, “I’m going to tell you something but don’t tell so and so.”
Katie: And I would have gone to so-and-so.
Doctor Neha: But there may not have been written proof of it where you can see in black and white! And I also see so many people who don’t want to be the person who takes accountability for it. Many people today post anonymously. When I’ve done TedX talks, the things people have posted on the comments section are startling to me. In one of my talks, I was a little tearful because I was moved and touched by the story I was sharing. I was feeling vulnerable as I was saying it onstage. And somebody wrote, “Why did you have to fake cry to get attention?” Wow. Fascinating. Right? So I’m just a really interesting, uh, an interesting dynamic that has started to happen online.
Doctor Neha: So Blake, I am curious for your thoughts on how you would give advice to a parent who wanted to help guide their child through this endeavor of going into the online world. What would, what would you say to them?
Blake: We love to come up with conversation starters for parents to have with their kids because, to be honest, keeping up with security settings and nuances about individual social media platforms is an infinite conversation. But if you are a parent who wants to begin a dialogue with your kids about social media, one thing we talk about is fear-based versus goal-based. Often parents are scared of the topic of social media—and rightfully so. It’s a world with no gates. It’s just the Wild West with Wi-Fi. And so naturally there’s fear there. A fear-based approach from a parent to their kids might sound like, “Here’s what you don’t do online. Here’s whom you don’t talk to you online. Here’s where you won’t go online. Here’s what you will never involve yourself in online…”
Doctor Neha: “These are the sites you can’t go to, and this is what we’re not allowing you…”
Blake: It’s the idea of “You will never cross the street” instead of “This is how you cross the street.” A goal-based approach is essentially speaking to your kids about what they’re into, having conversations about the music they like, the job they think would be cool to have, what places they want to visit, and what YouTube videos they’ve watched in the last week and why they like that one or like that person? Say to them, “Tell me more.” What is your kid into? It’s easy to talk to your kids about this because it’s selfishly driven for them to talk about “I love this stuff. I want these games. I want these toys. I want these jobs. I want to go to these places. I want to hang out with these people. I want to dress like that individual.” OK, now you pause. Now, since social media is a tool to help young people—or all people—access more of what they want in life, then parents can have a conversation about, “So if you want to be a DJ, how can you use social media in a way that doesn’t hurt your chances of achieving that? How can you use social media in a way that helps your chances of achieving that?” A goal-based approach to social media is a parent getting in tune with what their kids want and showing them that they have this vehicle that did not exist when their parents were growing up. This is a vehicle that can completely ruin their chances for all those things they said they want or can make possible all those things that they say they want. So it always comes back to using social media in a way that makes what you want more likely—rather than back in the day where a parent would say, “I will take away your Nintendo privileges.” Now there’s this thing that can kind either ruin something or make it possible, so let’s behave in a way that helps everyone succeed and makes it possible and positive for everyone.
Doctor Neha: What would you have kids do before they post something? Like what should they be thinking about before they make that decision?
Blake: We give kids a lot of different ideas, but there are two big questions and a few sub-questions. The two questions that we always ask kids: What do you want to say to the world? And more important, what you want the world to be saying about you? Because in every comment, every photo, and every video, you’re saying something to the world in one moment that’s up there online. That is what the world now gets to be saying about you. That’s like the overarching umbrella that drives what they put online and how they behave online. Then we say, “We want to help you make the most of every post.” Because at the end of the day, this isn’t something that just happens, it’s the accumulation of every move you make online. We don’t want anyone to be scared of that. We want you to be excited and empowered by that. So before you hit post, here are three questions:
- Is this true or not true? If it’s not true, don’t post it. Save yourself the trouble! But if it is true, go to the next question.
- Is it kind? So if it is true, but if it’s not kind, park it right there. But if it is true and kind, then go to the final question. And the final question we love because we made it all encompassing.
- Is it you? And that encapsulates the piece around is this what you want to be saying to the world and what you want the world to be saying about you? And if a kid says, “Well, this wasn’t kind, but it’s OK that people think I’m a jerk.” Well, we can’t stop them. They’re individuals who will do what they want, but our hope is that they say, “I don’t really know if I want to be showing up in a way that’s self-absorbed or cruel, so I won’t post that,” or “I’ll change it before I post it so that it passes those three little loops.” It’s the good old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” Well, that line was made when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Now that there’s Internet, I’d say, “If you don’t have anything nice to post, throw your phone into the next room for fear that you’ll cause some harm on others or yourself.” So ask, is it true? Is it kind? Is it you? That is what we equip young people with. We give them little bracelets with the words true, kind, you on it so that when they’re typing, the closest thing to those thumbs is true, kind and you every time.
Katie: That’s really awesome.
Doctor Neha: I absolutely love that. Thank you so much for giving us your pearls of wisdom on the Internet and social media. And a framework to just kind of think through, um, is it true? Is it kindness at you? I think that was phenomenal.
Blake: Thank you for having me.
Awareness Prescription for Using Social Media
What do you want to say to the world?
What you want the world to be saying about you?
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it you?
*Courtesy of Blake and My Life Online