On Monday, Katy Bowman of Aligned and Well and The Restorative Exercise Institute, posted a link to a New York Times health article on her Facebook page. She wrote a nice paragraph about the post, saying that she wasn’t going to dissect the article but that most people who read her work could pick the research apart.

Fast forward about an hour, and Katy posted this to Facebook:

This morning I posted an article, calling out how it didn’t line up well with the research used for it. And then I realized people were forwarding just the article, maybe just because it was on my page? Ack! I’ve taken it down to avoid sharing the article’s message. #dontshareuntilyouvereadeverythingincludingthereferences

– Katy Bowman, M.S.

This incident reminded me of a Facebook message I received once on my personal Facebook page. I had posted a link to a blog post, said it was provocative, and asked for dialogue around the issue. An acquaintance messaged me shortly thereafter, pointed to some things he found personally troubling about the way the blogger had chosen to live her life, and then wondered how I could possibly – based on her personal life – find value in anything she said.

I have to say, I was kind of flabbergasted.

What I found surprising was the idea that he thought my act of posting a blog piece to Facebook meant that I was in lockstep agreement with everything she was saying and everything she had ever done or said.

Social media is such a powerful tool, I think. Used well, it enables dialogue, discourse and engagement in unprecedented ways. At no time was that more real to me than this past Monday night when, on the eve of the Georgia primary, I went back and forth with some neighbors trying to ferret out information on the candidates for State Senate in my area.

But everyone uses social media in slightly different ways, don’t they? Some rely on it for business. Others for snark or humor. Some use it as a platform to share their religious beliefs. Read Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together and you will likely be struck by how different generations leverage social media tools differently.

And, evidently, some people assume that when you post an article to Facebook, you are doing so because you agree with every single word of the piece and everything the author stands for, your “preface” to the post notwithstanding.

On Monday, I posted a link to this piece from NPR: “Why Reporting on Scientific Research May Warp Findings.” (It’s so very good. Go listen or read the transcript.)

The reporters discuss the latest issue of Social Psychology, a scientific journal. In recognition of the value of replicating studies, as opposed to just developing breakthroughs, all articles published in the latest issue had to re-test old findings. One such study produced contradictory results. Here’s an excerpt:

VEDANTAM: … You know, a tendency, Steve, when we hear scientific results is to draw simplistic conclusions. Look, we have a breakthrough. Look, the breakthrough has been debunked. To me, what the replications are doing is open up questions we actually hadn’t considered. In this case the fact the replication failed in Northern California but worked in the Deep South raises questions. Is the effect due to demographics? Is it because of geography? Is it something else?

And now we are forced to be curious rather than judgmental.

INSKEEP: I guess this is a reminder that you need to keep an open mind and how subtly you can close your mind without realizing it.

VEDANTAM: And in many ways, Steve, that’s the point of science, to recognize that beneath what we think we know there are layers and nuances that are waiting to be discovered.

Katy’s hashtag: #dontshareuntilyouvereadeverythingincludingthereferences? It may be a tad unwieldy. And, it may be impracticable for must of us in our everyday life. But, what if we approached social media with more curiosity and less judgment? What if we sought more of the layers and nuance, and less of the “oh, this is what she believes,” and “she’s one of those.”

If social media is to be used in the service of engaged civil discourse, then I think it’s a hashtag worth considering.

 

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