Gentleness, Joy and Social Media

Fungus and moss on the forest floor - photo credit: Shelly Dennison
Fungus and moss on the forest floor – photo credit: Shelly Dennison

Shelly Dennison writes on joy, wonder and social media.

I recently attended Communicate 2022, a two day online conference aimed at environmental communicators from across a variety of sectors including charities, NGOs and academia. I’ve written elsewhere about some of themes that emerged from the twelve sessions I chose to go to, but over the past few days I have found myself reflecting on words from the closing session of day one.

Lucy Hodson (aka Lucy Lapwing) was recently seen on BBC Two’s Autumnwatch enthusing about invertebrates and Sunday morning BBC Radio 3 listeners may have caught her guides to identifying birdsong or the signs of Autumn. One of the things she talked about in her keynote was the sheer volume of social media noise and the challenge of not feeding the machine, with its algorithms that are designed to provoke outrage. In an age of information overload, she argued for the sharing of stories that are filled with passion, authenticity and excitement. Her Instagram feed is an excellent example of environmental communication done well, the photographs show fungi, moths, insects, feathers, crustaceans and more; while the captions dive into what is remarkable about the plants and creatures in question.

The crucial thing about the captions is that they exude joy and wonder. Her enthusiasm and curiosity about the natural world is contagious. Lucy talked about the need to bring qualities like kindness, joy, gentleness and understanding to our communications to counter the often strident tone of social media. I was struck later by the way these words echo the Fruits of the Spirit, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22-23) One of the most insightful questions at the end of Lucy’s talk was about whether joy was natural or a conscious choice – for Lucy it is natural, for others of us in environmental communications it may sometimes require a little more work!

My church has an Instagram account which is focused on our Eco Church journey. Back in May 2020, at a time of national lockdown, we decided to use it to take part in 30 Days Wild. This turned out to be a really positive decision, previously the feed had concentrated on photographs illustrating our practical steps towards a Bronze Eco Church Award but 30 Days Wild led to regular ‘Connect to Creation’  posts designed to engage with the themes of joy and wonder in creation. Reviewing our recent posts in the light of Lucy’s talk, it’s clear that we can do more to share that sense of wonder in the face of creation, alongside inviting our followers to explore creation for themselves, so that’s my project for future posts.

It’s impossible to talk about social media at the moment without mentioning Twitter. Like many people who manage not-for-profit social media accounts, I’m concerned about the apparent dismantling of the moderation and trust and safety teams as well as the future stability of the platform. I’ve recently signed up with Mastodon to see how it works and whether it’s going to be a viable alternative for charities. I quickly discovered #mosstodon, a hashtag full of wonderful pictures of moss, from amazing close-ups to whole landscapes, it’s a rabbit hole worth diving down.

Shelly is Digital Engagement Officer for CPRE Bedfordshire. She attends St Mary the Virgin, Goldington and Putnoe Heights Methodist Church (which has received its bronze Eco Church award). Shelly is a graduate of the CRES course.