Navigate EDI on Social Media

How to uphold SFU’s principles of equity, diversity and inclusion

Everything we post on social media as communicators should reflect and uphold SFU’s values and commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. Please review the following information:

Here’s an overview of topics such as stereotypes, tokenism and gender-inclusive language, along with some tips for navigating this important area of communications.

What are stereotypes?

A stereotype is an over-generalized belief about a particular category of people. Aim to avoid perpetuating stereotypes that paint an entire culture, group of people or community with one broad stroke. 

Be careful of unintentionally perpetuating stereotypes through both images and text. For example, not all First Nations wear headdresses, live in teepees or carve totem poles, yet these are the images that are often used as shorthand to symbolize Indigeneity on social media and elsewhere.

Pro tip: Before you post, look at your content with a critical eye and ask if you are making sweeping generalizations with either your images or your copy.

What is tokenism?

Tokenism refers to the practice of making only a quick, cursory or symbolic effort towards diversity or inclusion. Here are some examples of tokenism:

  • Companies will sometimes hire just one candidate from an underrepresented group and continually point to that one employee to deflect criticism about the lack of diversity in their team
  • A department only has one Black faculty member but that faculty member’s photo is used in all the marketing and imagery for the department to give the appearance of diversity
  • A single Black faculty member is constantly expected to speak on behalf of all Black people when it comes issues of equity, diversity and inclusion

Pro tip: Before you post, ask yourself whether or not the images you’re using are an accurate representation of your faculty, department or unit.

What is gender-inclusive language?

Using gender-inclusive language is the practice of speaking and writing in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes.

Make your communication more gender-inclusive by:

  • Reading the United Nations “Guidelines for gender-inclusive language in English” 
  • Avoiding gendered terms. For example, say “humankind” instead of “mankind”
  • Ensuring that your language is inclusive of people who identify as nonbinary. For example, say “Welcome, everyone!” instead of “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen”
  • Avoiding gendered pronouns. For example, say “They will open the door…” instead of “He/she will open the door…”
  • Checking for any biases or assumptions related to gender identity or languages that perpetuates gender stereotypes (e.g. when writing about gender-based violence (GBV), assuming that only women are subjected to GBV)

Pro tip: Before you post, ask yourself if your content is inclusive of people from all gender identities.

What is “Digital blackface”?

“Digital blackface” is a term used to describe instances where the anonymity of online identity is used to embody Blackness. One of its most common forms is the excessive use of reaction GIFs with images of Black people.  

As communicators, it’s important for us to think about how something as simple as the use of a GIF could possibly enforce or perpetuate racial stereotypes. Read "We Need to Talk About Digital Blackface in Reaction GIFs" for a perspective on this.

“We all need to be cognizant of what we share, how we share, and to what extent that sharing dramatizes preexisting racial formulas inherited from ‘real life’,”—Lauren Michele Jackson in Teen Vogue. 

More information

To learn more about these topics, or other content considerations related to equity, diversity and inclusion, please visit the Resources section of SFU’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion website. 

Some specific resources you may want check out include:

  • The Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI): through SFU’s partnership with the CCDI, all faculty and staff have access to webinars, events and a knowledge repository that provide insight into the latest thinking about diversity and inclusion in Canada. 
  • LGBT 101: This introductory course, created by Pride at Work Canada, helps set the foundation for an LGBT-inclusive culture. SFU employees interested in taking the course can register using the code “SFU10” to receive a 10% discount. Employees may also be able to use Professional Development funds or work with their departments to have the cost of this training covered.

Delta Airlines: A case study in stereotypes

During the 2014 World Cup, Delta Airlines found themselves in hot water when they tweeted a photo that celebrated a team USA goal against Ghana: 

The problem? They chose a photo of the Statue of Liberty to represent America, and a photo of a giraffe to represent Ghana—a country where giraffes do not actually live. In fact, the photo they used was taken at a wildlife reserve in Kenya.

After a number of Twitter users informed them of their error, Delta Airlines attempted an apology. Unfortunately, that apology had a typo in it: 

Second time’s the charm:

This is a textbook example of unintentional stereotyping. While Delta Airlines may have meant well, in choosing this particular image, they painted all African countries with a broad brush and showed that they hadn’t done their research.

As communicators, we’re responsible for ensuring that our content doesn’t reduce a culture, a group of people or an entire country down to a single stereotypical image. 

Pro tip: When Delta Airlines were informed of their error, they didn’t get defensive or try to sweep their mistake under the rug by deleting the post and pretending it never happened. They simply apologized and took responsibility.

Bonus pro tip: Always take the time to proofread your apology, and any post, before you post it.