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Social media is a cesspool. Here’s how to clean it up.

I started blogging in 2006. It changed the way in which I think about the world … and how I communicate those thoughts to our members.

I joined Facebook and LinkedIn that same year. They expanded my network farther and faster than I ever thought possible and connected me directly with some of the most influential thought leaders in my profession.

I created my Twitter account in early 2008. It turned me into a content curator and helped establish me as a trusted source of accounting- and finance-related news.

Social media has redefined my career. What I do hasn’t changed. From radio broadcaster to print journalist to online editor to corporate communications chief, I’ve always been in the business of informing people.

How I do that, though, has changed radically through the years, and much of that change is due to social media. For that — and especially for the connections and friendships that I’ve made through these social channels — I am eternally grateful. I’ve been one of social media’s biggest cheerleaders and have preached its gospel to anyone who will listen for the better part of a decade now.

But I’m distraught by what our social networks have become.

They’ve become a cesspool, teeming with the most vile, hateful, destructive commentary possible. They’ve become a portal through which humanity’s darkest side emerges, often anonymously, and infects everyone it touches. If our networks are big enough, that dark side can infect tens, even hundreds of thousands and spread like a virus.

They’ve allowed bullies to shut down legitimate conversation and squelch constructive ideas through sheer intimidation.

Maybe worst of all, they’ve bred lies and have convinced the lazy and gullible among us that those lies are true.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We can turn this around. We can change all of that in three steps.

  1. Be nice. It’s called “social” media, not “anti-social” media. Practice the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We can kill that dark virus by shining a little light onto our networks.
  1. Tell the truth. Before you “like” or “share” a headline, take the time to actually read the content in question. Check the sources. Did the content come from a legitimate news organization? Check a truth-seeking gatekeeper like Snopes.com to find out if what you’re about to share is true. Share what’s true, not what your personal beliefs tell you ought to be true.
  1. Demand the same from those you follow. Don’t let the liars and bullies get away with it. If you can prove what they’re saying is false, say so, and cite your sources. Make them tell the truth.

Pretty simple stuff, actually. Our parents taught us those rules from Day 1, but somewhere along the way, we decided it was OK to be lying bullies.

It’s not.

We have to get this right. The ways in which we communicate are being defined by how we manage our social channels.

If we don’t start adding a little civility to our social networks, we’re doomed.

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