Please can we stop getting at people for doing the right thing in the wrong way? I’ve been seeing reports on social media of people getting told that they’re not doing veganism right, not doing sustainability right, not being the right kind of feminist. Quite frankly, it makes me want to hide the fact that I’m plant based, hide that I love trying to be more sustainable and stop talking about feminist issues, and obviously that’s not the way it should be.
Don’t get me wrong, where is a time and place for calling people out on hypocrisy and certainly times when virtue signalling and moral licencing can get irritating. We could all almost certainly do a lot more to be better people, and it’s always good to question our own actions. However, I would argue that over social media is not the right place to do it for a number of reasons:
- Meaning gets lost over text, and even well intentioned constructive criticism can end up sounding bitchy or self-congratulatory.
- Social media is so often a one-way conversation, not allowing for nuance and discussion. Since the purpose of calling out someone’s actions is hopefully to discuss with them the best way to rectify the situation or simply have them better understand your point of view, social media really isn’t the best place for this.
- You (probably) don’t know the person you’re questioning, however much you think you might, and they almost certainly won’t know you. Similar to point number one, that probably means that any good intentions will be lost. Influencers receive hundreds (if not thousands) of comments, remarks and questions each week, and unfortunately it is easy to miss good intentions when being called out every single day for a different assumed wrongdoing. In addition, because you don’t know them personally you don’t know their full story. Often they will be doing much more than they show on their page, and you just have to assume they have a reason for doing what they are doing.
- Even if they see your comment and understand it, it’s hard to trust people over the internet. ‘Advice’ over the internet is rarely well received, and the way it comes across is ‘you’re not enough, you should be doing more, and I’m going to tell you how you can be perfect just like me’. Almost no matter how it’s phrased, that’s how it’ll read at a glance. Since telling someone they are wrong is almost the worst way of changing someone’s mind, it’s a bit of a token gesture trying to change the way someone lives their life over the internet. Why should they listen to you? Frustrating though that can be, there are plenty of better ways to make the world a better place, and it might be worth spending efforts in those areas instead.
Perhaps I’m being naïve and viewing people as better than they are. Perhaps the majority of people who talk about issues such as veganism, sustainability and feminism are virtue signalling. However it’s in my nature to give people the benefit of the doubt, and from reading a number of articles on the psychology of getting people to change their minds (from politics to veganism), I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how honest your intentions are, telling someone that they should be doing better over the internet is unlikely to get them to be a better person.
So what can we do? There are a number of ways you can spread the message you want to spread without a) insulting anyone and b) your message being badly received and experiencing the backfire effect (i.e. someone doubling down on their beliefs after someone else tries to change them).
- In my experience, conclusions are best arrived at through a person’s own thought process (e.g. telling them to have a different opinion is not going to get them to change their opinion). Raising important questions with allows them to think through the topic at hand an come to their own conclusions. Whether those conclusions are the same as yours or not, it’s better than being uninformed. E.g the reason I started to eat a vegan diet was because I studied environmental biology at university and was given a bunch of facts (in a non-partisan way) to do with what I liked. I started to eat vegan because of those facts, whereas others didn’t, and that’s OK.
- Since advice is better received from people we know, instead of advising people over the internet to be better, why not try starting a discussion with your friends about these topics? Even if you disagree, it’s interesting to hear others’ opinions on the subject matter, as well as sharing your own. Even without openly discussing certain topics, simply living your life by certain values can have a positive impact on those around you.
- Use your own page to spread the message you want. Sure, targeting individuals might have a more forceful effect, but for all the reasons above, it’s probably not the best way to change people’s minds. Instead, educate through your own platform. That way, people can come to their own conclusions from the information you give them, and by actively choosing to read your page the advice you give is not unsolicited.
- Focus on your own self-improvement. I think sometimes we can spend so long pointing out others’ inadequacies that we forget to look within at the places we could improve. If your desire really is to make the world a better place, this is a good place to start.
It’s frustrating when you truly believe that your way of doing things is the best way to not have everyone immediately see that you are right. It’s annoying because you think that if only everyone lived the way you think they should, the world would be a better place. I get that, and I often think the same (if ONLY everyone in the world stopped eating meat). However, if the goal is make real change (as opposed to just wanting to show everyone that you’re right), then I think we could all do better than to tell people over social media that they’re not good enough. After all, we could probably allbe doing more.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this piece, and if you’d like to read more in a more digestible format, head to my highlights and watch the ‘vegan debate’ and ‘unsolicited advice’ ones. Many thoughts in there (both my own and my followers’). Tell me what you think!