I just put about two weeks’ worth of coffee into my body, so please consider that as you read these proposed guidelines for political postings on social media.
I decided to put these down because I have noticed so many friends falling off toward these two camps: those who are tuning out completely due to political news fatigue and those who are spun up into a frenzy of posting and reposting and forwarding and generally being outraged all the time (or at least every fifteen minutes between the odd stress-reducing cute animal pic or positivity meme).
The fact is, neither approach is helpful, and probably not healthy, either. We should all remain engaged, after all, or at least aware of what is going on around us. But we should not get lost in the process, nor should we be a part of the system of misinformation that has plagued our national politics for a long, long time. (That’s right, it is almost a national treasure, this “fake news” thing, and it goes right back to the beginning of our country’s history. That it appears to have reached some new apex in the past year is something of a natural progression, albeit a sad one. The challenge now is for the media to really keep it in check as it had done, more or less, for the past 120-ish years since the Hearst-induced Spanish-American War.)
6 Really Useful Social Media Guidelines
1. Stop sharing every Tweet that reaffirms what you feel. If there is a link, follow it first, read the article and make sure it is from a valued source. Think about what it adds to the discussion. Is it new? Is it clever? Does it make a useful or unique point? Is it objectively true?
2. Stop sharing images out of context. Just because there is a string of text over a picture does not mean that it is either accurate or honest. Inflammatory juxtapositions are a tool of disinformation, easy to get riled up over and far too easy to pass along to other people who are inclined to believe that they are true. Memes of this sort are a detriment to rational and civilized dialogue. If an image has a reliable source, share that. Anything else is just a smokescreen, playing into the hands of those who want to wrest power from you by ensuring you are never certain about whether up is down or down is up. Sharing any of these sorts of images, whether Left or Right, Liberal or Conservative, will lead down the same dark alley.
3. Slow down. If you post too frequently, most of your posts will be lost. Frankly, the way Facebook algorithms work, it is amazing that some of you get read at all. Unless you are specifically receiving notifications from a friend’s feed (you all are setup to get notifications when I post, right?), you often won’t see anything unless you frequently like or comment on that friend’s posts, that friend likes or comments on yours, or you have some mix of friends who are reacting to both of you… or something along those ever-changing lines. Facebook is more about funneling advertising to you than it is about ensuring you get to see everything your friends are posting, and when you amass 300 or 400 or 1000 friends, it becomes almost unmanageable to read everything in your feed, even if you are scrolling through it 10 hours a day. Keep it relevant, thoughtful, and concise and you’re bound to make more of an impact. Also, use a related image with your longer posts so that it is more likely to get seen by people. Or, if you have a blog of your own, take the time to post it there and then share it to Facebook. Taking these steps not only will get your message to a wider group of your peers, but it will ensure that you really care about what you are sharing and not simply doing a knee-jerk repost.
4. Be compassionate. Remember that if you are hit by a hammer often enough, things are just going to go numb. It’s a necessary response, not something that people should be shamed for. We all have different levels of tolerance for pain and we often react in markedly different ways. A bit of compassion goes a long way in that regard — we are all in this together, whether everyone realizes it yet or not. Patience for one another is essential, so please exhibit that in your own actions.
5. Be calm, but awake. Shouting is great for drowning out the ideas that other people express, and we have all seen how far shouting can get you in the event that you have nothing of substance to offer or you cannot defend a position based on evidence or logic. Shouting is a great tool for those who want to simply bully themselves into power. But bullies ultimately fall because you cannot build a foundation of support that way. Diligent use of intelligence and integrity will ultimately win the day. But it takes a concerted effort, especially in the anti-intellectual environment that has been building for a long time around us all. We need to take a collective breath and commit to an understanding that facts are facts, that opinions need to be considered but never confused with empirical data. Take the time to differentiate, be skeptical, do a little research, and respond to issues pointedly.
6. See the other side of things. Without empathy, we go nowhere. Unless you are willing to assume you could be wrong, you will never truly be able to understand an opposing point of view. I’m not suggesting that “alternative facts” be given credence, but if someone is adamantly on the other side of an argument, give them the benefit of the doubt for a moment and step over there with them. Look at the argument from their POV. How do things look from that side? Are the facts any more clear or are they muddied? Where does the other side’s logic hold sway? How can you now argue against your own position from this vantage? Most importantly, beyond all these questions, take the time to find common ground. It is from there that you are most likely to sort out a solution that removes the argument and forms consensus.
That’s it. Six guidelines that I’d love to see you follow. I’m going to do my best to stick with them. I hope you join me.