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How to avoid your next social media blunder

Charlotte City Council member LaWana Mayfield has been under fire for social media posts that criticized police and questioned 9/11.
Charlotte City Council member LaWana Mayfield has been under fire for social media posts that criticized police and questioned 9/11.

It’s hard to remember, but there was a time when communication occurred at a slower pace. When someone misspoke, it was to whoever was in the room, or in a letter, or via the dreaded, inadvertent “Reply All.” Today, too many people – including political leaders – are engaging in stream of consciousness tweeting and other means of flying by the seat of their thumbs.

Case in point: Charlotte City Council member LaWana Mayfield has been on the defensive lately, following her recent social media posts suggesting a 9/11 conspiracy theory and likening law enforcement officers to terrorists.

Yes, freedom of speech allows her the right to post such things, and she’s entitled to her distrust of existing systems. But as a fellow citizen of Charlotte, I’d rather see Councilwoman Mayfield using her position and platforms to foster more connection among us, instead of more division. Her controversial posts feel ripped from the very playbook of the tweet-happy president that she, herself, criticizes.

Mature people think before they tweet. Mature people allow their potential public statements to pass through an internal filter of some kind – considering them in even the dimmest light of logic, reason, or consideration of impact on others. Mature people communicate with perspective and intention, rather than allowing whatever bubbles up from their id to run the show.

Otherwise, such heedless, rapid-fire public rantings simply serve to break our community down further.

So how do we stop this trend? In part, we need to retrain ourselves to seek out opportunities for thoughtful connection rather than thoughtless spouting.

About a year ago, I was on the verge of getting into an online spat with a local artist/activist over the state of our local creative scene. But instead of publicly posting my emotions in real time – something that’s all too easy to do – I paused, took a deep breath, and decided to shift from incite to invite. My public post proposed a coffee meeting so we could share our perspectives face-to-face. Thankfully she said “Yes,” and a week later, we were in her NoDa studio – taking turns talking, listening, challenging and agreeing.

That meeting changed the course of our lives. We were headed for online war; had we let it keep going in that direction, we would have missed out on a wonderful friendship and cherished creative collaboration. Now we are steadfast supporters of each other's projects, initiatives, ambitions and lives.

Author Brené Brown asserts that it’s easy to be cruel from behind our screens. People are hard to hate close-up, so we should move in closer to each other. These days, I’m a connection junkie. Connection beats division every time. Maybe it’s partly because I’m an identical twin.

A few years back, researchers used ultrasonography to track the motion of twin fetuses, and they found them starting to reach toward each other by the 14th week of gestation. By the 18th week they spent more time contacting their partners than themselves or the walls of the uterus. This suggests that twin fetuses are aware of their counterparts, prefer to interact with them, and respond to them in special ways.

In our detached, tweet-whatever-is-on-your-mind culture, we’re quick to forget that we're hardwired in our DNA to reach out to each other. To connect. To help each other develop and grow and succeed.

I hope Councilwoman Mayfield and others will consider spending more time connecting thoughtfully with our fellow citizens, and less time driving us apart with impulsive online rants.

Email: mattolincreative@gmail.com