1. You have to remember something. “Disagrees with you” is not the same as “Stupid”, “Racist”, or “Evil.” Being civil is how we get along in a multi-cultural world. Especially with people we disagree with. Just like your Mom and Dad taught you. Especially because the only people paying attention to you on Facebook are your friends, who specifically opted in to hearing what you have to say. Be a little more polite.
2. Posting articles and adding 5 words of comment (or even better, “This!”) is not an argument. It’s a 3rd grader making a fart joke and grinning maniacally. It’s what children do. Go to WordPress.org, start a blog (they’re free, just like this one), and string together some related facts (with links to sources) if you want to change people’s minds. Maybe prove why the other side is wrong. Challenge the argument. 8th graders can do this. It’s not hard. (Also, if your meme accuses the other side of being stupid, check that all the words are spelled correctly. It undercuts your point.)
3. The more certain you are of your views, the more likely it is you haven’t done the reading, and are just repeating what other people say in order to score points of some kind. Read up on the Dunning-Kruger effect– the stupid are too stupid to know they’re stupid. (And that often applies to you as well as your opponents.) Adult life is full of doubt and incomplete information. The world changes pretty fast. The only people who are completely sure of their rightness are toddlers and fascists (but I repeat myself). In most cases, you don’t know what the f*ck you’re talking about. Really. Americans, do you really think you understand the facts and worldviews of both sides of the Brexit Question? Do you really, deep in your heart, believe that 52% of residents of the UK are stupid and/or racist? How much do you know about EU law, immigration patterns, assimilation, unemployment, trade negotiations, and the regulatory burden? Not much, I assume. (Neither do I, and I used to live there. And I have a pretty good education.) Europeans, do you really know much about Trump and Clinton? Do you know much about US foreign policy in the last 20 years? Do you have a crystal ball that will tell you how people will really behave once in office? When we have strong opinions about things we don’t understand, we look like idiots. I have made that mistake enough to get some wisdom– the wisdom to shut up when I don’t know the answer. Don’t just go along with the tribe.
4. Criticizing your opponents for being stupid is not going to persuade them to vote for you. In fact, it doesn’t convince undecided people to vote for you. It just makes you look insecure. Your opponents’ views are probably based in a different worldview than yours. You want to change their minds, change their worldview.
5. Most people don’t come to Facebook to learn more about The Schengen Treaty, David Cameron’s romantic life, Clinton’s Olympic-level Corruption, or Trump’s enthusiastic use of bankruptcy law. That’s what we use the Wall Street Journal or the Guardian or NPR or Commentary or The FT for. We come to Facebook because we like you, and we want to know more about the good things going on in your life. Vacation pictures are fantastic. Good news about your family or work. Funny stories. Music videos that make you happy. Pictures of your beautiful children. It’s Facebook. We go to Facebook for a dose of happy brain chemicals, not righteous moral anger. You know what’s great? More pictures of you– your friends love you and get happy when they see your face. Smug political commentary we can get from anyone. What we want from you is, well, you in all your imperfect glory. Relationships are what matter, not political point-scoring.
6. If you do put together grownup thoughts about politics, I’m delighted to read them, but put up a link to your blog. Use 1000 words. Use sources. Use charts and graphs. (And leave the comments on). I am very interested in politics and have some strongly held opinions. But Facebook is probably the worst venue for them. In fact, it’s especially badly designed for making persuasive, fact-based arguments. It’s really well-designed for short pieces of emotional content to share with your friends.
7. We are all getting way too polarized. The declining cost of satellite carriage 20 years ago meant that everyone got their own news channel. Now everyone seems to have their own facts, and lives in an echo chamber where people just agree with each other, smirking in coffee shops about the latest “sick burn” on the latest Emmanuel Goldstein. That makes you boring. You have to start hanging out with people different from you. People with really different views than your own. People who grew up in different places from you. People who will challenge your certainties and introduce you to new music, new food, and new ways of looking at the world. If you expect that all your friends share your political opinion, you are either rude (because you are not respecting your friends) or you are boring (because all your friends actually all do think the same thing). Republicans– listen to NPR in the morning; Democrats– read the opinion pages in the Wall Street Journal, or Mark Steyn. Hegel taught us that the dialectical method is where we find the truth– thesis, antithesis, synthesis. (H/T Ben Grizzle) Read something that challenges your assumptions. Get out of the echo chamber for a while.
8. Danah Boyd wrote a great paper about 10 years ago about Social Media and identity production. Her point was that we use our posts on social media to brand ourselves, to tell the world what they should think about us. Do you really want to the world to think that you’re smug, humorless, rude, and don’t think very hard about your political positions? Is that really what you want your friends to think? There’s a word for people like that– teenagers.
9. if you have strongly held political views, then treat them with sober respect and find the right venue. I’m not saying don’t post about politics– I’m saying don’t do it on Facebook. It’s the wrong tool for the job. It’s designed to elicit emotion and make you look at advertising, not to explore difficult questions.
10. If you must get into politics on Facebook (and I wish you wouldn’t), how about starting by asking a question? By treating it as a way to learn something from smart people like, oh, your friends. They probably have a lot to offer. That’s why you listen to them. A great place to start is Dean James Ryan’s 5 Essential Questions. (Tremendous video– 6 minutes that can change your life.)
We have big questions before us, and we can get the facts, most of the time. Let’s not devolve into name-calling, but try to take each other’s positions seriously, and act like grownups when we wrestle with political questions. If we are friends on Facebook, I really don’t care what your political positions are– I care bout you. Share more of yourself. Don’t repeat other people’s talking points.
Let’s make the political dialogue better and Facebook better– do politics on your blog, do you on Facebook.