summit 2022 social media whitney westerfield

Showing how it’s done: Kentucky Sen. Whitney Westerfield took a selfie while participating in a Summit panel discussion on ways to ensure that discourse on social media remains civil.

Want to Be Smart on Social Media? Just Remember ‘SOCIAL’

By Lisa Ryckman | Aug. 5, 2022 | State Legislatures News | Print

Here are some posts you might see on Kentucky Sen. Whitney Westerfield’s social media accounts:

  • Stuff about drones.
  • Stuff about being a dad.
  • Stuff about the Kentucky Senate.

Here are some posts you won’t see on Westerfield’s accounts:

  • Snark.
  • Hate.
  • Photos of his kids (they’re private).

Westerfield shared a handy-dandy strategy for handling social media during a session on the topic at NCSL’s Legislative Summit. After nine years in the Kentucky Senate, it’s part of his system for dealing with the nonstop trolling and vitriol that makes up too much of social media. “Doesn’t matter what party you are,” he said. “There’s a collection of people who hate your guts.”

Westerfield suggests you just remember the mnemonic “SOCIAL”:

STOP “Think twice before you put something out there,” he said. “Think three times. Proof it. Have your spouse proof it or a partner or staff member or somebody. If it’s something of any consequence or substance, think twice. If you are responding in a fit of rage, please, I implore you to stop. She would implore you to stop,” he said, indicating fellow panelist Megan Stockhausen, digital media coordinator for the House Democratic Caucus in Washington state.

Responding to laughter in the room, Stockhausen said, “That’s why members don’t have access (to their accounts).”

Westerfield continued: “If you’re an elected official or speaking on behalf of an elected official, what you say carries some weight. You can really screw things up unintentionally. Or intentionally.”

ORGANIZE “You’ve got to organize your thoughts and what you want to share,” said Westerfield, who maintains only personal accounts, not official legislative ones. “I share things about what I’m doing in the Legislature, but I also share random stuff. Stuff about being a dad. Astrophotography and drones.”

CURATE When Westerfield says “curate your feed responsibly,” he’s talking about other people’s content, not yours. “I beg you, if you take nothing else away from what I say on this panel, please do not only follow people who think like you. You don’t have to follow the person in the Legislature who you absolutely can’t stand, who everything they say boils your blood, who’s on the other side, or in the other chamber, or in the seat next to you. But you need to follow people who are not always going to say the things you say.”

For years, Westerfield said, he’s gotten most of his news from Twitter, his social media of choice. “I’m a Republican, y’all, and I can’t stand Fox News,” he said. Instead, he follows thoughtful conservatives and liberals he knows and trusts.

INTENTIONALLY ENGAGE “If all you ever do is post some boilerplate thing, if you just set it and forget it, then I think you’re missing the point,” Westerfield said.

Talk to the people who follow you, for whatever reason.

“Don’t just post about politics.”

AVOID ESCALATION AND SNARK “For the love of Pete,” Westerfield said, “this world needs no more of that. It just doesn’t.”

Sure, it can be satisfying. “I have to stop myself from being really mean or hurtful sometimes, because I’m just angry.”

Avoid that at all costs, he advised. “Don’t contribute to the din and the noise. Be part of the conversation. De-escalate others.”

LAUGH Don’t be all business all the time, “nothing but hardcore, difficult, heavy-lifting policy talk,” Westerfield said. “Get some humor in your feed. Don’t treat it like it’s the Magna Carta. It’s not.

“Dial down the weight.”

Lisa Ryckman is an associate communications director at NCSL.

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