Groupwork Centre Blog

Facilitating in the social media scrum

Doom scrolling the other day I noticed not for the first time, the high-voltage passion with which people engage in content that has some kind of social change conscience to it. There are strong opinions, judgments and deep concern about a range of issues, the most recent being the human tragedy of Palestine.

Unfortunately the social media conversations tend to be a reflection of the conflict we’re seeing at the global level. People tribalise and set themselves up on either side of an issue and then from behind bunkers, lob various word grenades that often quickly descend into personal abuse and worse.

I know of people in fear for their lives because their passion and willingness to speak out has added to the divisiveness and polarisation that characterises this space. Any chance for some kind of creative way through is lost in this environment.

If ever there was an example of a “group” that is profoundly unsafe and un-facilitated, it is the high-stakes social media one. Say what you believe with too much passion and you are in the minefield.

Before long you’ll be exposed to some very “strong feelings” – views from others, untempered by the self- moderation that usually comes from face-to-face engagement. You’re now deeply in the scrum, or a brewing melee. The word “conversation” may have already lost relevance. Winning and gaining power become the only objectives.

What I often hear these days when people talk about engaging on issues in the social media environment is either “Where are you and why are you not saying anything?!” or “Avoid social media at all costs on this topic. People are crazy. Look after yourself.”



The net result seems to be that people who might say something, don’t feel safe and so leave the space altogether, (or watch with a mixture of fear/horror from the sidelines). The ones who remain almost unflinchingly endure the emotional attacks and can give as good as they get when the grenades are lobbed. The result: nuance, sensitivity, listening, compassion all become distant memories.

So what can or should we do? Entering the space that is thick with the above culture to try and model another way of engaging may seem futile, and yet these are the times we are in. These are the cards that have been dealt to us. Do we move away from this space or do we engage? What is the cost if we do or don’t? What is the impact – on both ourselves and others? Is it worth it?


How to have a go

Until we have a go, we’re not going to know for sure. I had a go the other day and my conciliatory comments about “maybe both things are true and if we acknowledge everyone is doing their best we’ll stay more connected … etc” were completely ignored. No-one saw it as helpful apparently (ie, no likes, no reactions) nor did it help as a circuit breaker. I may as well have been speaking another language. I guess to those in the thick of it, I was.

But I remain undeterred. Whether it makes a difference in the conversation or not is only half the point of entering the fray in the first place. Just to muster up the courage to drop a comment into the lion’s den helped me flex some self-awareness and self-management muscles that I know will be helpful in other contexts.

I had to really centre myself because I could feel the reactivity within as I read some of the comments from others. Being centred and grounded is one of the most important skills to have when entering a space that has become heightened and tinderbox dry … ready to explode.These are the very moments we need to take on a different role: not as a contributor to the content step but as a facilitator of process, helping people to hear each other.

And besides, how do we know we are not having an impact when there is no immediate response? I believe part of our role as facilitators is to plant seeds. It’s possible that a few choice words can germinate a thought or feeling in another person which is starting to take root because of something different we did.


Show some kindness

Some kindness, slowly dissolving the hard edges of disconnection, might take a while to work away at deeply held and unconscious habits. Knowing that, it’s possible to stay true to a different way of being despite what others might be saying or doing. We don’t need to fight back, we need to act in ways that are the antidote to the pain in the space.

Entering the social media space shouldn’t be done without preparation, that’s my recommendation. Do it consciously and with care; care for ourselves of course, but also others who are in there throwing grenades.

People don’t do things without reason and there is plenty of hurt in this world that needs holding by other human beings willing to take the risk and who believe in the goodness that lies deep within every one of us. If we enter prepared and with the wisest, curious and compassionate parts of ourselves awake to what might happen, we might truly make a difference.


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