Experts' top tips for a kinder internet

Trolling. Cyberbullying. Revenge porn. Violence. Hate speech. Sometimes it seems the internet has turned empathy into an endangered species.

But the power of connection can also be used to promote kindness and compassion. We asked some of Family Zone’s leading cyber experts for their top tips for making the internet a kinder place - starting right now.

If it seems to you as if simple kindness is in shorter supply than it used to be - well, that’s because it is, explains Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki. 

Author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, Zaki points to evidence that empathy has been declining precipitously since the internet entered our lives. 

In fact, according to his analysis, we are now more than 75% less empathic than our counterparts 30 years ago.

Zaki and other researchers have found that communication through the internet has the effect of dehumanising the person on the other side of the exchange. 

We are now more than 75% less empathetic than our counterparts 30 years ago.

When we interact online, we can’t see the usual cues - the nonverbal feedback -  that indicate to us how the other person is reacting. That makes it easier to be insensitive or downright mean. We fail to listen attentively - or at all. 

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“Sometimes one of the most important things is to cue ourselves in for one moment and recognize that there’s a full person on the other side of this interaction,” Zaki advises.

He notes too that tapping into the internet’s enormous potential for connecting us has an obvious upside too. Because research shows that empathy is contagious - and communicating compassion and kindness online can help spread it.

But how? Three of Family Zone’s leading cyber experts offer their top tips. 

Top tips from cyber experts

Martine Oglethorpe, The Modern Parent

martine

  1. Control your response. Remember you can’t control what people say or the way they behave online, but you can always control how you respond. Maintain that control with every interaction. 
  2. Know when to abort a conversation. Sometimes when interactions get personal, nasty or threatening we need to press the abort button and shut it down to save our time, emotional energy and preserve our own wellbeing. 
  3. Use privacy settings. Familiarise yourself with the delete, block and report buttons and frequently visit your privacy settings to ensure you maintain the greatest control over your interactions online.  
  4. Be an upstander, not a bystander. Look out for those online who may not be having a good time. Give them a positive comment or approach them in real life if you know them and offer them support. 
  5. Get an offline life. Have people, places and purpose away from the screens. Recognise when you need to take a break and surround yourself with people, environments and activities that lift you up

 

Jordan Foster, ySafe

New Jordan pic crop 2

  1. Encourage positivity. Get kids to contribute positive content to other people's profiles and posts. Research shows that the first few comments on a post set the 'tone' of the comments section. If the first few comments are negative, it increases the likelihood of bullying and vice versa.
  2. Practice empathy. Empathy online is hard, and usually taught through conversations in 'real life'. Help kids consider how it might feel to be on the receiving end of banter or snide remarks.
  3. Be the change you want to see. There are plenty of adults who make negative or attacking remarks online (just refer to any comment section of a news article on Facebook!). What message is this sending to our kids? That attacking random strangers online is ok? 
  4. Teach kids how to have constructive conflict online. Disagreeing with someone online is ok. Making personal attacks against how they look is not.
  5. Use parental controls. Setting boundaries on how much time kids can spend on their devices will combat FOMO and online addiction.

Dr. Kristy Goodwin

DRKRISTY-PROFILE

  1. Avoid using social media when you're tired, as our logical part of the brain switches off (the frontal lobe) and the emotional part of the brain (limbic system) switches on. 
  2. Pause before you post. Too often we post things when we're feeling emotional and tired and this means the logical part of our brain isn't in the driver's seat.
  3. Take the Nana test. Before you post anything online, ask yourself what your grandmother would say about it. If you have any reservations, it could be a red flag about what you're about to post.
  4. Don't jump to conclusions based on one post, image or comment. Remember, social media is an iceberg - you only see the tip of what's happening in someone's life and there's often a lot happening under the surface.
  5. "Post from your scars, not your wounds,” in the words of writer Glennon Doyle. In other words - never post in the heat of the moment. Give your emotions time to settle.

 

How do you promote empathy on social media? We’d love to hear your ideas. Join us on Facebook or Instagram today!




Family Zone helps schools AND parents to create cyber-safe communities where empathy is nurtured - and digital kids thrive.

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Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Social Media, cyberbullying, wellbeing, mental health, empathy, kindness

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