Allyship through social networking – by Deborah Levin

Allyship is an inclusion and diversity strategy through which individuals with privilege support members of underrepresented groups in positive ways.  Implementation of allyship strategies in work environments is increasing. There are many opportunities to use this strategy beyond the workplace, particularly in person social networking and media activities, to combat hatred toward underrepresented groups. 

Hate, as a noun, is a passionate dislike, disgust, hostility or learned moral resentment of someone or something.  As a verb, hate is to feel intense dislike, resentment, or hostility toward someone or something. Hatred is a demonstration of these feelings.  Typically, hatred toward a group or class does not begin with extreme behaviors; instead, there is an incremental escalation which begins with less severe activities. 

At the minor end of the hate activity scale is bias. Bias is demonstrated through unfair favoritism or discrimination.  Bias escalates into prejudice, where harm or injury may result from a negative, preconceived judgement not based in reason.  Levels of demonstrated hate increase into discrimination where there is overtly negative treatment of a person or group, compared to the general population.  If discrimination goes unchecked, hate intensifies into acts of violence and abuse, where physical actions are used with intent to injure, damage, destroy, and inflict cruelty. The pinnacle of extreme hate manifests through genocide, which is the deliberate mass killing of people possessing common characteristics, such as ethnicity or nationality. (See Pyramid of Hate)

It should also be noted that the opposite of hate is not love, it’s indifference. Indifference is the absence of sympathy, interest or concern.  If something is viewed with indifference, it is considered unimportant. The concept of indifference is crucial for allies to understand. A quote attributed to Edmund Burke is “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Silence is considered validation by those who choose to cause harm.  Allies cannot be silent, particularly on social media platforms where misinformation is disseminated at lightning speed.

Allies must have the ability to discern what is and is not hate. Differences, disagreement, opposition, and dislike should not be defaulted into a hate category.  For example, a person who is passionate about a cause, group, or different point of view, who expresses their viewpoint without bias or prejudice is not committing a hateful action.  Moreover, humans are not perfect. A person who causes a reasonably minor error, disruption, inconvenience, or infraction – inadvertently and without ill will – did not commit a hateful action.  Conversely, a person who is caused a reasonably minor error, disruption, inconvenience, or infraction by someone who caused the incident inadvertently and without ill will is not the recipient of a hateful action.

Allies should watch social media feeds for hate speech.  Hate speech includes negative communication toward or about a targeted group.  The rhetoric is intended to demean or hurt members of a targeted group through derogatory verbal, non-verbal, symbolism, and visuals. Popular examples are biased memes and gifs, which are often humorous images or sayings spread rapidly throughout social media platforms. Sharing imagery is another form of validation for those involved in hate speech, which can magnify rapidly.

Examples of popular social networking/media platforms include Facebook/Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest, Google Messenger/Hangouts, Tumblr, WhatsApp, Discord, and GroupMe. New applications grow in popularity every day, which present challenges in tracking adverse communication about underrepresented groups. A secondary challenge is quickly identifying what is and is not an action associated with escalation of hate. A tertiary obstacle is establishing constructive communication, including opportunities for reciprocal constructive dialogue. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for well-intended constructive criticisms to escalate into heated conflicts behind the faceless veil of social media usernames. (See Most popular mobile social networking apps in the United States as of September 2019, by reach )

Allyship must include diversity across all demographics and technology proficiencies to accelerate saturation across multiple social media platforms. Personally, I rely heavily on Facebook/Facebook messenger, Twitter, and Pinterest which are older social media platforms.  I am less likely to use newer platforms because I do not want to take the time to learn something else. Younger generations may have a Facebook page to, as my daughter put it, “Communicate with the parental units.” Her preference is connecting via Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, and Tumblr. Diverse allyship overcomes barriers in the acceleration of new social media technologies.  As something new is established, allies should lead the way in driving anti-hate communication. Allyship should begin with youth and carry through into adulthood to drive generational change.

The third barrier is knowing how to communicate when a hate-speech communication is identified.  Communication requires courage because it can result in backlash from the recipient or other members of their social media groups.  There is a risk of losing friendships and encountering bullying, which may not end at the close of a conversation thread. Allies must keep the focus on respect for the person receiving the message, constructive communication, focus on the specific hate-speech example, and demonstrating a willingness to have further communication regarding hate speech awareness. Creating a script to use as a guideline in advance of the communication may be helpful.  Consider using a script which includes a “respect sandwich”:

  • Begin with why the person is considered personally valuable by the ally
  • Identify the specific hate speech example
  • Explain how it makes the ally feel
  • Recommend how to fix the issue
  • Invite the person to have open constructive dialogue about the example provided
  • Close with reinforcing how the ally values the relationship

Here is an example of a high-level script:

You and I have been friends on this social media platform for a while. I enjoy seeing your statuses, photos, and other posts. However, this meme made me feel uncomfortable because it generalizes negativity about a certain group.  Unfortunately, sharing information like this spreads bias and prejudice, which adds more conflict between different groups on this social media platform. I do not think that is your intent but wanted you to be aware of how memes like this are perceived by others. I am happy to talk about it if you have time. Again, I value our connection and believe you are a good, well-intended person who does not support discrimination toward others.

The script does not assign blame or throw the person into a negative classification category.  No generalizations are made about the recipient. The specific example is addressed without escalation to include higher level issues. The communication begins with acknowledging the person’s value to the ally and closes with reinforcement of this value. The goal is to have a constructive conversation without compelling the recipient to become aggressively defensive. The script example may or may not resonate with the readership because of the way it is written. There is diversity in communication styles, which may be more effective with different people.

The ask of readers is to create more script examples for allies to use. Additionally, consider creating scripts for constructive criticism from within a targeted group. How would someone within a targeted group convey the negative impacts of a social media posting to someone outside of their group with the primary purpose of increasing awareness and empathy instead of combativeness?

Allyship across all social media platforms is important.  Allies should be armed with communication tools to help them engage constructively with others to increase awareness and empathy. Allyship across multiple generations is necessary to accelerate saturation of anti-hate accountability across all social networking sites. Silence and indifference in the cyber community is no longer an option. Be an ally.

Deborah E. Levin, DM, MBA
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