Rotary at all levels encourages its members to take advantage of social media platforms to spread the good news about Rotary.

We have embarked on this journey with no real understanding of the implications of doing so. It has been more an Act of Hope than a knowing act of engagement.

Along with society, in general, we are beginning to discern some of the features of social media that distinguish it from the key Rotary entities: the Club and the District.

Rotary’s Rules of Engagement and Social Media Platforms

Websites, FaceBook, Twitter, Linkedin, Blogs, Pinterest, Instagram et al. are NOT Rotary Clubs or Districts. Clubs and Districts have special status and requirements. Only Clubs and Districts can sponsor Council on Legislation resolutions, make petitions to the RI Board of Directors, and use the Rotary marks without written approval. Clubs and Districts are also places were politics of a partisan nature is banned.

Not so long ago “social media” did not exist.  What did Rotarians do if they wanted to talk to one another on an informal basis? They met at a local coffee shop or over an informal lunch. They might have hatched a resolution to bring to the Club; they might have even discussed the need for a petition to the RI board. They didn’t need to worry themselves about a Rotary mark as they already wore the Rotary pin. And they might have even discussed the local candidates in the forthcoming election as the ban on politics does not extend to private discussions among Rotarians.

From a legal perspective, social media platforms have more in common with the local coffee shop than the Club or District. They have no more status than the coffee shop, and of course, that means none at all. Even if an international group of Rotarians were to put together a petition, it is not to be received by the board of directors.

We have, however, established some not yet officially approved practices. In the governance of Rotary marks only clubs and districts, and current official officers may use them. The ban on politics now extends to social media platforms even though it is not a Club or District. In fact, it is widely abused for partisan purposes when it is convenient.

The Power of Social Outrage and its Impact on Peace in and out of Rotary

Rotary has not been immune from the growing sense of social outrage which has enveloped social media over the past two years. The forces of outrage have been growing within the realm of digital discussion since Bulletin Boards, Yahoo groups, Blogs, Web sites with comments, and now full-fledged social media platforms each came into being.

M.J. Crockett, Assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, an expert on the neuroscience of human morality has studied how social media manipulates our Pull quote -outrage 300x186emotions. The algorithms encourage us to post more and more extreme statements. The more we “like and share” the more advertising, is sold by social media. But it also means we only communicate with those who have like views. Conservatives and Liberals no longer talk to one another. Rotary has always been a place where the greater good embedded in Rotary rose above that din.

Crockett writes (Globe & Mail, March 3, 2018) “Harnessing digital outrage for social good will require a mindful awareness of how social media manipulates our emotions.” We need to consider if our online platforms are “distract(ing) us from the difficult work that will ultimately lead to social change.”

Rotary had already felt the sting of moral outrage when it instituted the ban on the use of the Rotary mark for gun related events. It even appears to have broken its own rules to deal with the outrage when only a few years prior it forced a group of International Rotarians to bring a petition through a club. But then Guns are a particularly American obsession. As always the piper calls the tune.

Supervising social media Rotary mark violations is an impossible task. I believe there are at least four Rotary International FaceBook locations. The same problem exists on Linkedin. At present, the policy seems to be to wait until some elite member or small organised group of members complains.

Crocket concludes that “if moral outrage is a fire, social media is like gasoline”. If we are to be Peacebuilders, both inside and outside of Rotary, the modern realm of social media requires that we control our strongest emotions and use our forums with caution.