Part of my goal for this project is improving how I communicate with people I disagree with–especially on social media. Personally, I think there’s a limit to how useful social media can be for having political conversations, particularly because it’s so easy to treat people poorly and not really listen when we can’t see them. That being said, social media politics aren’t going away. Therefore, when it feels important to talk politics on Facebook, I’m trying to make my words more respectful and productive.
Better Angels’ “Social Media Pledge” has helped me think about how to do this.
- I will post with a goal of clarifying my point of view and not attacking the other side.
- I will be civil and respectful.
- I won’t make blanket statements or over generalize.
- I won’t try to convert people to my “side;” I will encourage understanding and learning.
- I will keep an open mind.
The core message seems to be trying to explain your own position and “learn” from others, rather than speaking to persuade or condemn. I often find this easier to do when I build conversations onto pre-existing relationships. When I type to people I already care about, I can transfer my trust/respect into more civil conversation. Furthermore, when I argue on Facebook with people I actually know off Facebook, our conversations are (usually) more productive. We actually want to better understand each other, strengthen our relationship, and come to some resolution between our ideas–whether that be finding common ground or merely accepting our differences.
In contrast, social media often starts conversation before a relationship is formed. Since good conversation is hard (and usually not fun), I don’t have much of an incentive to really listen with an open mind or be truly honest when I don’t know the person with whom I’m arguing.
The way I’ve dealt with this problem is to try to avoid political discussions with strangers online and, if I do get involved, to not take subsequent personal attacks too seriously. I don’t believe those people would say the same things if they actually knew me. At least in my own experience, I know I’m less likely to get angry, to think other people are stupid, or to reduce them to polarizing labels if I also know that person in other contexts.
How do you use social media to talk politics? Do you argue differently with strangers than with friends or family? Differently than in-person conversation? Would you make the “social media pledge?”