2020. A presidential election year. Here in Georgia we have become a battleground – not for the presidential seat necessarily, but Republicans in Georgia are having to fight hard to retain their current seat or gain a seat. The Perdue v. Ossof showdowns and various folks running for representative seats otherwise are crowding our TV screens, social media feeds, and mailboxes.
Regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum you are no doubt going to encounter some debates and arguments on social media. Now social media itself supports confirmation bias, the phenomenon where we are drawn to information that supports our pre-existing ideology or viewpoint. We like the “evidence” that supports what we already believe! We know that platforms such as Facebook use algorithms to track your patterns of likes, reading, and watching in order to give you the ads, videos, and news that match your already established pattern of behavior.
But what about your friends and followers on social media? Have you ever seen someone post something political and thought “the nerve! How can they believe that load of bull?!” Maybe you responded with a comment or reply only to go down the proverbial rabbit hole of debate and argument. Or maybe you didn’t respond but let it simmer in your mind, gnawing at you throughout the day.
About 7 out of 10 Americans use at least one social media platform and 74% of Facebook users visit the site every single day. That’s a lot of opportunity for some social media knock down drag out fights! Here are some practical suggestions to help you manage and avoid altercations on social media.
Create your own social media use philosophy. Why are you on social media? What purpose do you want it to serve in your life? Once you have a philosophy, it becomes very easy to streamline how you use social media. For example, I rarely use Facebook. My philosophy in using Facebook is “to connect with friends I have in real life and see things that bring me joy.” As a result, I have limited friends on Facebook to only those I would get a cup of coffee or lunch with in real life and I unfollowed every single one of them. I go directly to their page if I want to see what they’ve been up to. I only follow pages and groups that post things that bring me joy, such as the “Well, that’s delightful” group. Every time you think about posting or sharing something you can ask yourself: is this in line with my social media use philosophy?
If you are considering posting something political, ask yourself:
What is the source of this post?
Is it from a reputable high-quality news outlet?
When in doubt, don’t post or re-post.
Does this post fit with your philosophy of social media use?
If not, don’t post it.
Ask yourself which of your friends or family has a different political view than your own and if they could be hurt by your post.
Does your post include incendiary language or prejudicial stereotyping?
Would you say this to a loved one’s face in real life? If not, don’t post it.
Avoid click bait. If the title is catchy but it’s an advertisement or from a source you don’t recognize, avoid clicking it! The more things you click the more data social media has about you and the more likely it is that you’ll be fed more crap sources in the future.
Remember that you are unlikely to change someone’s political party affiliation or their position on key issues, such as abortion, immigration, or gun rights/control. Your post is not going to change their mind. Period. Don’t hide behind this as an excuse for posting something inflammatory. (As a side bar, you might change someone’s mind about a relatively small issue, such as the benefits of composting kitchen waste rather than putting it into the landfill.)
Consider adopting a digital minimalist approach to social media (Newport 2019). This involves limiting (or completely stopping) online social media activities by focusing on carefully selecting activities that support your values and fulfill your philosophy of social media use. For example, avoid scrolling aimlessly, which increases the likelihood of encountering clickbait articles, inflammatory posts, and unreliable news sources. Some techniques to consider:
Limit your “friends” or those you follow to the actual friends you have in real life.
Shut down your Facebook wall (if you’re a user of this platform) so that only you can post there.
Unfollow friends to limit the random posts you’ll see in your news feed (for Facebook users).
Limit the amount of time spent on social media and develop a “schedule” for when you will be on social media, with a timer for when your time is up.
Don’t click on ads.
Don’t “like” posts in order to minimize the data social media platforms collect about you.
Ask yourself whether reacting to someone else’s post is in line with your social media use philosophy.
Walk away from inflammatory posts. You can’t control what others do or say. All you can control is what you do, say, and how you react to what others do and say. Social media posts do not require a response. No, really, they don’t! Do you really need to comment on that political post from that one person you knew from high school 15 years ago? Do you really need to share something that is riddled with stereotypes or cruel language?
Social media was not created from an altruistic desire to help people connect. Remember that platforms exist as tools for you to fulfill your goals, so being clear on why you use social media will help you better figure out how best to interact with others on those platforms.
For more information and practical tips on handling conflict during the holidays, join MCM’s November 14, 2020 webinar!
Newport, C. (2019). Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.