WHAT IS ONLINE PEACEMAKING?
Each of us has the power to make peace in every space we inhabit. This includes digital spaces where an increasing number of us are spending our time, sharing information and having public conversations about issues big & small.
Online peacemaking is a commitment to creating spaces where people can have conversations about complicated or emotionally charged subjects and know that they will be welcomed and respected. It’s a form of leadership in which individuals like you cultivate and moderate digital communities where trust is built and real relationships can form over time.
Through this process, people in your community are able to grow their own understanding of complex issues, and develop empathy through regular interactions with people they might otherwise not have a chance to engage.
BUILD AN ONLINE COMMUNITY
Your online community is a Venn intersection of all the people you know – in person or online – with YOU directly in the center. While you may not have control over everything that happens online, you do have control over YOUR social media pages, and what happens there.
Put People First
Before you can do any kind of long-term work with people online, you must create your own digital community that is made up of people that bring value to the space.
Your community IS… People you care for and respect from your past and present including:
- Family, friends, and colleagues.
- Community leaders.
- Friendly Followers who think you’re interesting.
Your community IS NOT…The Whole World, but especially not:
- Abusive or Bigoted People (Whether you know them or not).
- People who intentionally try to create controversy (Trolls).
- People who can’t tolerate opposing views without becoming angry.
Because social media tends to create ideological bubbles, it is important to include people in your community who have drastically different points of view. However, they must be able to communicate their views respectfully, and conduct themselves maturely.
Learn how to use filters/lists, privacy settings and muting features on all of your social platforms so that you can include or exclude people depending on their ability to have intelligent exchanges; but don’t filter out people you don’t agree with just because it’s uncomfortable to hear what they have to say.
Set the Rules of Engagement
For your own mental health, and for the health of the community that you want to create, you must be willing to assert yourself as a leader online. That means setting boundaries, moderating conversations and facilitating dialogue that happens within your sphere of influence.
You’re under no obligation to connect with everyone you know on every social platform, nor are you required to tolerate any behavior that you wouldn’t actually invite into your own home.
You get to choose the rules of engagement for your own community. It’s recommended that you post your expectations for engagement on your page, clearly stating the kind of engagement you want to see from the people who gather there.
However, a word of caution: no one wants to be part of a community where they aren’t free to express themselves authentically. Don’t set too many rules and regulations. The boundaries you set for your community should exist only to protect the individuals who participate, and allow for the maximum amount of free expression.
Protect Your Reputation
It’s important to remember that online communities are a lot like offline communities in that trust isn’t built overnight. The quality of the conversations you lead online depend in large part on how comfortable the people who meet in your community space feel.
As is true ‘in real life’, your reputation is all you have online. Be consistent with your positions, avoid gossip (even in ‘private’ forums), and be willing to admit when you are wrong publicly.
Don’t Dictate. Facilitate.
Building peace online requires a community of people who regularly engage, blending personalities through regular interaction and exploring one another’s opinions and feelings. Your job as a leader is to facilitate these interactions by creating a space where everyone feels welcome to contribute.
You can do a lot to reassure people that their participation is welcome, but creating a real community of people who can have ongoing conversations around important issues requires an investment of time and energy.
CONTENT: YOU ARE WHAT YOU POST
There is a serious lack of trust in media today. Part of that is because digital media has made it so easy to create and disseminate outright falsehoods. It is essential that we look critically at everything we create or share for online consumption. Some good rules of thumb:
Look for multiple sources for a single story before you share it. Even professional news organizations can make big mistakes in their rush to be the first to break a story. Wait to see if a story has been verified by 2-3 sources before you share it.
Also, recognize that not all sources are created equal. There has been a proliferation of ‘fake news’ sites online that gives the appearance of professional news organizations. Look to well-known journalists who abide by a professional code of ethics, and news organizations that have a reputation to uphold. Understand the difference between fact-based news and opinion columns; between journalists and pundits.
Seek Different Points of View
It is more important than ever to seek out different points of view online. Social media algorithms often keep us from seeing content that doesn’t align with our own opinions and interests. Even though it can be distasteful to read views from people who profoundly disagree with us on big issues, we need to understand exactly why they are taking that position. Look at stories from every possible angle before you make dogmatic statements or try to begin a public conversation around them.
If something sounds crazy, it may just be a hyperbolic headline. Read the story thoroughly to make sure the content matches the headline. Also, look for hints that the “news” you’re reading isn’t conjecture. Words like “unnamed witness”, “reportedly”, “possibly, etc. mean that the facts have not been verified.
Take Steps to Correct Misinformation
Finding out that something you’ve shared is false can be embarrassing, but as a leader in online spaces you have a responsibility to minimize any damage you do, even if it’s done inadvertently. Be sure to publicly recall anything you share the moment you find out it is not truth, and if it’s been shared, post a correction on every share with a link to the correct information (if applicable).
MANAGING (INEVITABLE) CONFLICT
Learning how to manage conflict is essential to online peacemaking.
The first thing to keep in mind is that conflict unavoidable. You’ll never be able to create an online community that is 100% free of conflict, and that’s ok. Because conflict is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. Productive conflict is how we learn and grow.
The question is how to facilitate the inevitable conflict that arises in a way that doesn’t destroy your community.
- First, make sure your standards of engagement are public, and refer people to them if things start to get heated.
- Second, avoid ‘taking sides’ as much as possible. Even if your views align more with one person than the other, your job is to facilitate their interaction and not settle arguments.
- Third, offer your community tools they need to resolve the conflict themselves. This can be done both by setting the example, and by interjecting when conversations appear to be heading off track.
- Finally, block people only as a last resort and with fair warning. Everyone has an off day sometimes, and having a hair-trigger on kicking people out of your community makes people feel like they have to walk on eggshells. That limits authentic engagement, which hurts your community in the long run.
Online peacemaking is hard work. It requires time and energy, and will test you daily. Chances are it’s not even your primary occupation, which means you’re doing this work in addition to everything else in your life. As such, you have to practice self-care so that you can stay in it for the long game.
What does self-care look like?
It looks like turning off your devices for extended periods of time so you can rest and sleep and concentrate on things that need your attention ‘in real life’. It looks like having trusted advisors and a support system to talk through the challenges you face. It looks like making time each day for meditation and prayer and journaling.
When you allow yourself to become depleted you are unable to lead. Knowing how to replenish yourself and maintain a sense of balance and well-being is vital to leading in online communities.
Each online community will be unique. The purpose of your leadership is to facilitate engagement, not make rules and dictate what people can say and do. The more freedom you give your community, the more people will invest their time in it.
As a peacemaker in online spaces, you must commit to letting the people in your community define itself within a few parameters that only exist to preserve the safety and respect of the individuals who participate.