Many content creators feel pressure to constantly produce new content. This pressure is artificially enforced by the nature of social media, forcing us to ‘stay relevant’ and always demonstrate how we are ‘earning our place’ at the table. The pressure is very real, and I believe that people are generally trying to do the best that they can. Thankfully, there is a lot of brilliance being shared online, and the internet has definitely shifted the tactics of social justice.
However, the pressure to constantly produce combined with superficial diversity and inclusion efforts produces some toxic results. This often leads to information being co-opted and non- or differently- marginalized people receiving credit for work that is not theirs. This ultimately harms the people who are at the core of social change theory – who tend to be those most impacted, namely women of color, trans and queer people, and disabled people.
What are ethical content creators to do? How can we make sure we are carrying our efforts for social justice into social media? Here are some tips for creating content that draws upon the work of social change thinkers, and for conscientiously sharing social media posts. In addition to these tips, your content should be accessible to people who are disabled.
Questions to ask yourself when creating content:
1. Whose work is this? Who are my sources? Who did I learn this information from?
2. If I am creating content directly from someone else’s work, am I giving appropriate credit? Does my name appear in equal emphasis with theirs? Could it be construed as my original content?
3. How will I benefit from posting this? How is it going to contribute to my own social capital?
4. How can I make sure the focus is on the person/people I learned this from?
We are constantly learning and gathering information from each other, to the point that sometimes it can be impossible to know where our own thoughts begin and end. But to the extent that you are able, you should always recognize those that you learn from. If someone has inspired the content you are creating, it is important to mention them. Recognize the person as the source of your inspiration and thank them for their work. Recommend that others follow them as well.
If your content comes directly from someone else’s work, you must credit your sources. People often fail to do this on the internet, so information becomes generalized and loses its context, often to the detriment of social change. Contact the source and ask permission to use their work whenever possible. If you do not know the source, research it. Try searching a specific phrase or keywords from the information. We are all going to miss crediting someone at some point; be open to people correcting you. Do the best you can.
Giving appropriate credit also means limiting the ways that the information could mistakenly be construed as your own. For example, pay attention to how you are positioning the original source’s name on graphics. Their name should be positioned in a font size and style large enough to be easily recognizable. Your own name, if it is included, should be less easily recognizable. Use their name and relevant social media handle; both should also be placed at the beginning of your caption. This is not to say you don’t deserve credit for creating the graphics – but emphasizing your own name can be construed as claiming credit for the information. Keep in mind whose labor is actually being centered in the content.
Most people post to social media for some kind of benefit – connecting with others, gaining respect, establishing expertise, or just knowing that people like what they have to say. Social media is built on creating social capital, and I’m not blaming anyone for participating. But we need to be careful about how we use other people’s labor to our own benefit. Consider whether you are the right person to post this information, and whether the social capital you gain from it could be used by the original source. It may be better to take the content you created and give it to them to use (and then repost it from their account). Again, I suggest contacting the original source to ask what they prefer.
Once you post the content, it is important to make sure the focus remains on the original source. No matter our best intentions, some people will inevitably misconstrue the information or repost it without proper credit. It is your responsibility to correct them. When people personally compliment you for the content, suggest that the compliments go towards the original source. Share how you are going to use what you learned moving forward. Provide links to more of their work so that people can also continue to learn.
When reposting social media content, do the following:
1. Share from the original account. Popular posts get shared and reshared so many times that the original creator loses all credit. If they are mentioned in the repost, go to their account, or search their name if it is on a graphic.
2. Do a quick scan of comments if you’re able, to check for comments from the creator or anyone calling attention to problems with the attribution (or lack thereof).
3. Directly link to the creator’s social media account.
4. Do not use their content to promote your own work, website, or social media presence.
With some care and mindfulness, we can use social media to actually make a difference in the world, and share the perspectives of people who are often ignored. Reactively creating and sharing content without some thoughtfulness tends to work against that goal. Hopefully these tips provide a starting point for more ethical content creation.