A framework for thinking critically about social sharing

One the first day of the new year, I wrote a Facebook missive on how I plan to "go high" a la Michelle Obama in 2019, and aim to be constructive in my participation in public discourse. Not passive—and certainly not afraid to show righteous anger—but also steering clear of the meme-ification of political dialogue that was typical of 2018 social media.

As with most New Year’s resolutions, easier said than done.

For social media specifically, it raises the question: what are the criteria that should justify something being shared?

When I ran social programs in the past, I would always position shares, retweets, etc. as the most important social metric there is. Sharing shows a willingness to self-identify with a message, and often the act of sharing itself is enough to reinforce the validity of that message as part of our core belief system.

One potential answer to how to think critically about sharing could lie in understanding digital attention itself. A few years back I met Dr. Brad Berens, Chief Strategy Officer at the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg, and was introduced to his framework of attention. Brad says there are three essential dimensions:

  1. Relational: Am I alone or with other people?

  2. Spacial: Am I here or is my mind elsewhere?

  3. Temporal: Am I in the present, past, or future?

When I'm watching TV with my wife but scrolling on my phone, I'm often physically present with her but my mind is elsewhere (spacial), often absentmindedly conversing with other people online instead of with her (relational), or reading a news story from earlier in the day (temporal). If I’m out and about playing Pokemon GO*, I’m very much in the present space and time, but I may be socially participating with people nowhere near my physical location. You get the idea.

What if we thought critically about our social behavior using those same dimensions of attention?

What I’m proposing is that before I hit the ‘share’ button, I want to ask myself:

  1. Who is this from, and who is it for? Is this a reliable source? Is this for me, meant to make myself feel better? Will a specific audience benefit? Or is it tribalism for its own sake?

  2. Am I honestly engaging with the story? If it’s a news article for example, have I actually read it, or am I absentmindedly re-sharing based on a photo or headline?

  3. Does this need to be shared right now? Is it urgent? Has the moment passed? Or will a better time present itself?

Thinking about these three things won’t solve everything that’s broken about social media, but it’s a start. I’ve heard of others who’ve put blanket restrictions on their social sharing, like Anil Dash only retweeting women.

Anything you’d want to add?

*I don’t actually play Pokemon GO. Tried it with my son, but we couldn’t get into it.