There’s a video circulating on social media. I’ve seen it posted by several friends. It usually carries a click-bait title (“Did you spot the surprise?”). Every time I’ve seen it posted on Facebook, there are lots of “likes” and “wow” reactions.
When I first saw it, I was shocked. That’s how I was supposed to feel. That’s the reaction the video is aiming for.
I wanted to share the video. It’s a brilliant piece of marketing. It’s thought-provoking and powerful.
But as I thought about clicking the “share” button, I started to sob.
The intentionally disturbing nature of the video hit me hard … because I know someone who has lived through a situation similar to the one the video depicts.
I wondered how she would feel if she encountered the video through my Facebook feed.
As soon as I thought of her, I knew I couldn’t share the video without a trigger warning of some kind. I couldn’t share the video without spoiling the “surprise” — because the “surprise” is exactly the problem for those who’ve survived that situation.
So, I reached out to her to ask how to write an appropriate trigger warning. I’m not a survivor myself. I don’t really know how to care for those who are. Truthfully, if I didn’t know Laurie, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about sharing the video. But, thankfully, I do know her, and I’ve been listening to her perspective for awhile now. While I always strive to be kind in digital spaces, I don’t have a tremendous amount of experience caring for trauma survivors. Knowing Laurie has helped me better understand how to be mindful of digital content that may be harmless for most, but is painful or traumatizing for others.
Turns out, she hadn’t seen the video yet. My question about an appropriate trigger warning alerted her that the video probably contained something she might prefer not to see. If I hadn’t asked, she might have clicked the video entirely unaware of what it contained. If I had shared the video without asking, she might have clicked the video unaware because of me.
I’m deeply thankful that didn’t happen. To understand why, read Laurie’s thoughts on the video here.
Please don’t see this as a criticism of anyone who has shared or will share the video. Rather, read it as a call to reflection and thoughtfulness about how our digital activity impacts the sea of people who encounter our posts. Each post will undoubtedly reach someone we never thought about while creating it. Someone we forgot was following us. Someone we don’t know. Someone who will experience the content in a completely different way because of their unique experiences.
Knowing someone who has lived through something we can hardly even imagine changes the way we think about those experiences and situations. Social media allows us to connect with and learn from people with vastly different experiences from our own. Consider using social media to connect with people on a deeper level, instead of sharing momentary shocks, laughs, and tears.
If I decide to post the video, I’ll be taking Laurie’s advice about how to respect gun violence survivors on social media. Yes, it will spoil the “surprise,” but it’s the only way I can mindfully post content that might hurt someone I know and love.
The more people we know and love, the more mindful we should be.
Use social media to get to know people, and mindful posting will start to come naturally.
Lauren Hug, J.D., LL.M., is a speaker, author, and strategist. She is the founder of HugSpeak, a digital marketing and advertising firm, and author of two business skills books and a forthcoming book on digital kindness. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.