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how do i manage the 'digital afterlife'

of my voice?

Voicing one’s ideas and perspectives online can be empowering but also risky. Telling one’s story or simply expressing one’s stance on an issue on social media can provoke different reactions - including supportive comments, and respectful or hostile pushback. It can also have short or long term consequences, online and offline. Leveraging the potential of online spaces requires considering how to manage the afterlife of what one shares.

Activity #1: Considering the “Digital Afterlife”

In this activity, students will consider how to take care of themselves as they tap the affordances of digital media of voicing their ideas about important issues. They will look closely at examples of young people sharing and discussing their ideas on Twitter and Facebook.

Choosing Words: Social media can provide exciting opportunities to experiment with expressing ideas in different ways - including using humor, irony, inspirational quotes, and other attention-grabbing strategies for sharing a message. One can also use the short and snappy medium of a tweet or status update to express anger, frustration, or other strong feelings about an issue. Considering how your words might be interpreted, or misinterpreted, and taken out of context in the future is important.

Read the following tweet from a college student, Alice, who has a strong point of view about the controversial debate over whether all children should be vaccinated or whether it should be a family’s choice.

Consider the following questions and write your thoughts.

  • What do you think Alice’s motivations for her tweet might be?  

  • What do you think about how Alice shared her perspective?  

    • What are the upsides?

    • What are the possible downsides in the short-term (right after she posted it)?

    • What are the possible downsides in the long-term - in the future, even many years down the road?   

  • Have you ever expressed your voice about a controversial issue on social media?  How did you go about it?  Did you think about short-term or long-term impacts of how you shared your ideas? How did it turn out?  Would you do anything differently now in hindsight?

  • If a younger sibling or cousin came to you for advice about how to share their opinion about a controversial issue on social media, what advice would you give them?

Navigating Different Points of View: Young people who voice their ideas about social issues online, often develop specific strategies for managing challenging discussions. For example, the following online exchange starts with a post by Sarah, a young person who uses social media to voice her concerns about beauty expectations and support for people of all different body shapes and sizes.

Read the exchange carefully. As you read, pay particular attention to Toby’s comments and Sarah’s response to him.

After reading the exchange, talk with a partner and compare notes about the exchange. Write a response to the following questions:  

  • How does Sarah respond to Toby’s comment? What does she say and how does she say it?

  • How does Sarah’ strategies connect with what you already do or have seen others do when they respond to online comments?

  • Based on discussing this exchange with a classmate, what new ideas do you have about managing a challenging online discussion?  Can you envision yourself using these strategies? Why or why not?

  • What additional advice might you give to this young person - and other youth who use social media to discuss social issues?

Click here to download this exercise as a PDF.

For a deeper dive into strategies for navigating online conversations, see the Dialogue module.

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