There’s a long list of reasons to avoid hot-button cultural issues, particularly on social media. But like it or not, social media is here to stay. It’s a major contributor to public thought and not something we can simply ignore. It’s also the wild west of communication where seemingly anything goes, and your comments get filtered through as many lenses as you have followers. Anything is permissible (provided you don’t get flagged), but not everything is beneficial. While this may be frustrating and confusing, it doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and stop talking, or throw up our fists and start punching.
Don’t refer to a political party by name in a derogatory sense.
Some elect not to politically engage at all on social media, while a few “keyboard warriors” share their bold political thoughts only on social media. Neither choice is conducive to shaping our culture. The first is a pacifist stance, while the other is cowardly. Both forfeit the full weight of your influence as an American citizen.
If we choose to engage thoughtfully, there is no etiquette rule book to guide us. It may be tempting to give up before we’ve even begun, so here are some tips to navigate political discourse on social media. These are not intended to curb freedom of speech, but maximize your influence across political divides.
DROP THE LABELS
Don’t refer to a political party by name in a derogatory sense. The only exception is when referring to very factual and unbiased information. By dropping labels, it allows someone from the other party to see where you’re coming from and be on your side. When they see a label that vilifies them, they automatically tune out. Whenever possible, focus on ideas, not people.
Never resort to name calling or insults, particularly those that assume the intentions of another person. Always assume you readers have good intentions, even when they don’t.
SPRINKLE IN SOME KINDNESS
Pepper your post with positivity. Try not to make every post about something divisive. If you sprinkle in things that get everyone nodding and smiling, you gain the attention of more followers. Make these posts at least half to two-thirds of the content you post.
Never share something that violates someone’s privacy. This will cost you credibility and fewer people will trust you with their comments. Ask first before sharing something that someone shared with you.
Plan ahead on when you’re ready to “come out of the closet” on any particular issue.
If a conversation begins to disintegrate and you notice insults and violations of your personal rules of conduct, don’t be afraid to use the delete button. Control what happens on your page, and reserve the right to delete content if the conversation is no longer productive.
Some of us need to gain a bit more courage. Here are some tips to encourage you.
Re-posting is a good way to start. But don’t post an article or meme without providing a comment. Otherwise, people will assume that you agree with everything in the post. Sometimes you can just put something out as food for thought. As you craft your post, be honest about the fact that you don’t know necessarily agree with all of it. Invite others to let you know what they think. Ask a meaningful question about what was posted.
Couch your argument in terms of issues you know they will agree with.
Try to find articles from people on opposite sides of an issue, and pose questions along with your post. This keeps all your diverse thinkers engaged.
Plan ahead on when you’re ready to “come out of the closet” on any particular issue. Do some research ahead of time and make sure it’s a good time for you – when you’re ready to deal with any possible backlash. Let people know that you respect their right to hold differing opinions and hope that they will stay engaged with you even when they disagree. You may be surprised to find very little backlash and even some encouragement. Remember that your bravery can be contagious.
AGREE BEFORE DISAGREEING
When deciding to disagree with someone else’s post, make sure you know who posted it. Is this someone who will respond respectfully? If not, are you going to maintain respect even when the person takes a jab at you? Know what you’re getting into before you make that first response.
Also focus on areas of agreement. Couch your argument in terms of issues you know they will agree with. Use their line of thinking but take a different angle. Acknowledge areas where you struggle with hypocritical thinking.
Finally, thank the person for entertaining different perspectives. If they raise points you never considered, humbly acknowledge this and let them know you will look into it.
These tips are not just for social media, but for maintaining a level of respect and humility that increases your influence with people everywhere. If you want to change people’s thinking, it requires going outside the echo chambers where you feel safe. Using these principles can help build security and courage as you shape public thought— one brave conversation at a time.
Join us for this month’s face-to-face Brave Conversations event on Feb. 27, 6 p.m., at 12100 Coffee and Communitas. All perspectives are welcome. Come and see that Brave Conversations can be easier – and more fun – than you think.