Thoughts on Gabrielle Giffords and Social Media

What the Arizona Shooting Means to Us All

The shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the death of six others including a federal judge, an aide and a nine-year-old girl, in Arizona this past Saturday is a real tragedy. Their lives and the hopes and dreams of those who loved them have been painfully cut short.

Yet, as I’m glued to television newscasts and Internet stories, I wonder how we can use this incident to make our world, both online and offline, a better place. This is what Congresswoman Giffords was trying to do by listening to her constituents and it’s one of the best gifts we can give.

In a social media connected world we’re accountable for the people around us, whether it’s those we know through real life relationships and encounters or through online engagement. Here are five lessons that we can take away from this incident so that we can make the world better in our own modest way.

  1. Reach out. Congresswoman Giffords went out to meet and talk to her constituents face-to-face. She gave them her most important asset,  her attention. Like the Congresswoman, we need to be more focused on the needs of others. While attention seems like a small, insignificant thing, it’s not. Marketers and business executives must think of how they process requests from their customers and the public.
  2. Realize that words have meaning. We must think through what we’re saying, especially in public and social media forums. Sarah Palin’s Crosshairs on America not only was designed to tap into the dissatisfied citizens’ underlying anger but also implied a call to violent action. With death threats from people stirred to action, Ms. Giffords understood what Ms. Palin’s words meant and spoke against them from the House floor.  Yet, Ms. Palin, a former elected public official, irresponsibly continued to stir the political waters without considering the potential consequences. Remember to consider how your audience and the public will interpret what you say, regardless of how and where you convey it.
  3. Talk through differences. Just as we teach small children to use their words not their fists, we adults need to do the same. We must do this in public forums whether in real life (IRL) or on social media networks. If not for ourselves, then in memory of the innocent nine year old who won’t have the opportunity to do so.
  4. Make a difference. As we learned from United Flight 93 on 9/11, ordinary individuals acting together can change the course of events. In Arizona, people stopped the killer before he could reload his gun and Congresswomen Giffords’ aide rushed to her aid. As President Obama stated repeatedly during his campaign, we can make a difference whether it’s in public or on social media platforms.
  5. Pay attention to signs that people need help. While it’s easy to ignore those who don’t fit in, we need to think about what we can do to get them help before they harm themselves or others. We must learn what to look for and take appropriate action. It’s particularly important for teenagers and college students who are still changing and confused about their standing in the world.

I realize that what we say in the immediate shadow of the horror of an incident like this may be empty words to make us feel better. But the fact is that we all bear responsibility for changing and making the world a better place. So I leave you with this questions: What will you change in how you interact with your family, friends, colleagues, social media connections and the general public? What can we collectively accomplish that will lead us forward?

I invite you to add your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below.

With deep sorrow and respect for those who died, those who were injured, and those who loved them,
Heidi Cohen

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