PACSCL Tips for Inclusive Social Media Practices (March 24, 2021)

In February 2021 the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) posted Tweets to promote sharing items in our collections created by Black people. The Tweets were intended to be part of a month long hashtag event on Twitter to honor Black History Month and highlight the collections and people of PACSCL institutions. If you noticed that these Tweets were deleted, it was because we made mistakes and we fully acknowledge that they were problematic.

We hope that PACSCL members and other cultural institutions can learn from our mistakes. Here are some guidelines that we will follow in the future and encourage others to do as well.

“Black” should be capitalized but “white” should not.

Firstly, the original Tweet did not capitalize Black. Read more about correct usage for reasons of equity and identity.

If the goal is to promote representation, highlight creators and agents of change, not just passive subjects. 

Though we attempted to be clear in our guidance, we realized that different PACSCL institutions interpreted the campaign in different ways. For example, we had encouraged institutions to post collection materials created by Black people, to emphasize the often hidden agency of Black creators in our archives. However, some of the images posted were created by white people, and other images were not credited at all. A Tweet also featured a GIF that could be viewed as an example of digital blackface.

Don’t post pictures of staff, especially staff of color, out of context or without their consent.

There was also a deleted teaser Tweet promoting a hashtag party with the theme #pacsclpoc. While we stand by the idea of highlighting and celebrating people of color working in PACSCL institutions and will still carry out this campaign in a more thoughtful way, issues surrounding the Tweets about Black creators prompted us to take a moment to reflect and take time to articulate our intentions, and provide guidelines to PACSCL institutions for how to participate. We were concerned that photos were going to be posted without consent or context and we would like to give staff members of color at PACSCL institutions an opportunity to express more about themselves and their work than can be conveyed in a Tweet.

Evaluate whether social media platforms provide enough context for your message.

If an organization is committed to change, it should be part of everything it does, not just a social media campaign. Because of Twitter’s length restrictions, our posts were very brief, and we realized they could easily be misinterpreted or taken out of context. In the future, we will use social media to promote conthent that is posted with proper context elsewhere, rather than trying to deliver all of the content through the platform.

These guidelines are neither comprehensive nor fixed. Recommendations evolve over time. Take the time to familiarize yourself with available resources and commit to a life-long process of learning. 

PACSCL is committed to building a more inclusive PACSCL. To that end, the Communications Committee and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee are working together to better coordinate efforts across PACSCL, including how we communicate through social media. We are inspired by the PACSCL/Free Library of Philadelphia project Chronicling Resistance’s Guiding Principles and their call to: “…privilege, prioritize, center, and affirm the voices, lived experience, and perspectives of people who are Black, Indigenous, immigrants or children of immigrants, and/or whose sexual or gender identities have been marginalized.”
If you want to learn more, we have gathered some resources related to accessibility and inclusivity considerations for social media, language choice, and descriptive practices.

We want to hear from you. Please contact the Communications Committee (communications@pacscl.org) or DEI Committee (dei@pacscl.org) if you have any comments, questions, or concerns.

Sincerely,
Members of the Communications Committee and DEI Committee
With support from the PACSCL Board of Directors and Executive Committee