How to Be an Upstander: 5 Tips for Civic Dialogue in an Online World | Facing History & Ourselves
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How to Be an Upstander: 5 Tips for Civic Dialogue in an Online World

In this short piece, Dr. Cara Berg Powers offers 5 easy strategies to help people have respectful conversations on the internet.
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Navigating our digital landscapes is tricky and doing it well requires practice and thoughtfulness.

The fact is, we can all probably think of a time when we’ve said something to someone online without considering that another human being was reading those words, targeted at them. That’s why it’s important for us to acknowledge that communicating online can be confusing for young people.

Use these five tips for positive online engagement:

  1. THINK before you speak.
    Use these five questions before you respond online. I’m not sure there’s anything that couldn’t be made a little bit more loving and intentional with simple adherence to this brief checklist:

    Is it True?
    Is it Helpful?
    Is it Inspiring?
    Is it Necessary?
    Is it Kind?

    In the world of social media, especially when we find ourselves in conversations with people we don't know, it can be so easy to break some of these rules.
  2. Imagine you are speaking to a real person.
    Everything I said above. But if you need an even quicker gut check, and five questions is too many, just ask yourself one: Would I be a jerk if I said this to someone’s face? If the answer is yes, remind yourself there is a real person on the other end of that computer screen.
  3. Take a beat, or do nothing.
    Take a moment and be silent. If you are feeling incredibly passionate, especially in an angry way about an issue, don’t respond right away (this works for emails too!). Wait until you’re calm and then collect your thoughts before sharing them. And sometimes, it’s okay to not respond at all. You actually do not need to comment on every article, snap, video, or meme you see online. You don’t even have to react!
  4.  Listen/read to understand, not to respond.
    One of the drawbacks to this wonderful world in which we are all content creators is that we’re all content creators. Have you ever found yourself in a conversation where you hear one sentence someone says and then you’re not even listening to the rest? You’re just waiting for them to finish so that you can respond? This happens a lot online, especially with people skimming quickly and often times just reading a headline. Just as you know it would be better to listen for understanding, read for comprehension. Take that beat, and then respond. Or don’t.
  5. Take it outside.
    Take it outside into the real world. If something feels very personal, or heated, or challenging, ask a person if you can talk face to face about it. It can be so easy to shout angry things at each other through our computers and mobile devices. But that’s not what helps us build empathy, solidarity, and collective action toward a better world. And isn’t that the brave, empathic youth we’re trying to develop? We need to continue doing the hard work of developing excellent in person communication skills. Teach workshops about body language, conflict resolution, difficult conversations, and cultural responsiveness. It will carry through to how you interact online.