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Professor cautions students on consequences of social posts

Posted June 11, 2020
By Randy Covington, director of special projects

What you say will follow you, so be careful!

As a faculty member at the University of South Carolina, I am so proud of how our students are responding to the senseless death of George Floyd. Your idealism and commitment to making things better truly are the hope for our country.

The protests of the last two weeks understandably reflect strong emotions and when channeled constructively, that is a good thing.  However, I think it is important to keep in mind what can happen when those emotions erupt without much thought to the consequences. This is especially an issue in that cauldron of emotion and dissent we call social media. 

In my class Freedom, Responsibility and Ethics, I emphasize the importance of free speech, even if it is unpopular. Your opinions matter and you certainly have a right to express them. However, it also is important to exercise this right responsibly. Here are five things to keep in mind before you hit send: 

  1. Take a deep breath.
    When we see something that angers us or is wrong, our first instinct is to respond immediately. Don’t do it. Your response will be so much better if you take the time to think through what you want to say. Also keep in mind, you don’t have to respond to everything, especially from trolls and troublemakers.
  2. Respect others.
    You can express strong opinions without using profanity or language that is racist, sexist, homophobic, sexually exploitive or abusive. If you would not say something to someone’s face, you shouldn’t say it online.
  3. Respect yourself.
    Before posting something incendiary, ask yourself, is this who I am? Is this how I want to be seen by my friends, family and potential employers? The internet is forever and an ill-considered post can follow you for the rest of your life.
  4. Don’t encourage violence.
    You can condemn something without suggesting that people loot or fight with police. The goal should be change, not lawlessness.
  5. Be accurate.
    Make certain what you post is true. There is so much misinformation swirling around at times of crisis and this misinformation divides our country and incites dissension. As we see in our Social Media Insights Lab, there are bots and bad actors out there intentionally trying to polarize us. Don’t be part of the problem by repeating, sharing, liking or commenting on posts that you do not know to be true.

As my friend and colleague Christina Myers, a Ph.D student in the journalism school says, words have power, so they should be treated with care. In the end, it always is good to remember the Golden Rule. Don’t say anything to someone that you would not want said about yourself.  

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.