We have three things working against us as we try to build healthy relationships and communities in digital spaces.
First, we are robbed of the tools we've evolved to use in our 'real life' engagements that help us interpret the motive and meaning behind others' words: no facial expressions, body language, tone of voice or other cues. Just words and the occasional emoji.
Second, we are working against our own inherent biases and relative paradigms which usually cause us to interpret others' words in ways that center us and our concerns, supporting our pre-existing feelings and beliefs.
Third, we are all using digital platforms that are designed to override our deliberative thinking and provoke almost instantaneous responses, often rooted in quick emotional reactions to whatever we're reading.
None of this makes up for an ideal environment in which to have some of the most difficult and complex social, political and economic conversations of our day.
Studies are now being done about the long-and-short-term effects of social media on individuals and communities, but it's still new science. We do know, however, from our personal experiences that there are ramifications to our online engagement - emotional, psychological, intellectual, spiritual and even physical.
There are consequences to our words and behaviors online, and anyone who has spent any amount of time on social media has experienced them.
That's why the third Principle of Digital Civic Culture is Conscious Engagement.
What is Conscious Engagement? It's a commitment to deliberately showing up and thinking through what we put on social media, and what we consume there. It means taking the time to process before we respond to others; being the 'grown up' in a heated discussion and refusing to escalate an exchange. It means helping de-escalate when others' are engaging in a hostile manner, and even leaving the space altogether, refusing to participate further when things are out of control.
Conscious Engagement is an awareness that we are visiting virtual spaces when we go online, and that we have the ability to impact the culture of those spaces by what we post and what we refrain from posting. Our engagement is done with thought and purpose.