I love social media. I enjoy checking in with friends near and far, following their adventures, and listening to their ideas and opinions. Things can become tricky when politics becomes the hot topic online. That has been the case for the past few weeks as the Republicans and Democrats have held their National Conventions. I have watched discussions on all manner of topics.....some of which have become heated and downright ugly. Is it possible for friends to openly discuss important issues during this season without damaging relationships when we disagree? I think so. Here are a few things I've observed and learned that might be helpful.
Warnings will be appreciated. I've noticed lots of recent posts that have included "rant warnings" at the beginning. Whether this is an actual header to the post or an introductory statement, the warning allows readers to move on if they are not currently in a mindset to discuss political issues. (Face it...we all reach points in this season where we don't want to read one more comment about a Wall or Email server!) I gained new respect for a liberal friend who advised her Republican-leaning friends to unfollow her posts for the next week while she commented on the proceedings of the Democratic National Convention. She explained her reasoning for making the posts (to have access to the material later) and that there would be no hard feelings against those who "disappeared". Her intention was clearly not to offend or create strife with her posts and I appreciated her desire to create a comfortable online experience for all.
Know your friends. Let's be honest....we all know who is trying to fan the flames with their comments and who is interested in non-combative, intelligent discussion. Allow this knowledge to shape your responses -- or lack of. I have several friends who will openly post on my comments that will never receive a response from me. Why? I value their friendship, but I know that any response is going to turn into a war of words that will ultimately become personal and hurtful. On the other hand, I enjoy conversing with other friends who hold differing political views because we temper our comments with mutual respect and don't let things spiral downward into personal insults. The dialogue is about the issue and not the person. These are opportunities to learn about the other side's perspective and can often result in realizing that we are ultimately after the same goal....we simply disagree on the best ways to achieve the goal.
Not every comment demands a response. One of the beautiful things about social media is that it allows for the open sharing of ideas. If you feel compelled to respond, write your comment, re-read it, and reconsider it before posting. I find that this helps me identify comments that are inflammatory or not beneficial to the conversation. Once we become comfortable with not always having the last word on every topic, we will begin to engage in more meaningful dialogue.
Moderate the conversations on your wall. While every comment does not need a response, every comment posted on your wall deserves to be read. Follow conversations carefully and be willing to jump in when the tide begins to turn to insults. A simple comment to "keep it classy" or to "stick to the issue at hand" can ensure your wall doesn't become a war zone while still allowing for the sharing of ideas. When comments are especially offensive, deleting the hurtful post is a possible course of action.
I think this is an important election year and that the issues need to be discussed. Social media can be a great tool in the exchange of ideas as long as we all remember that we still have to live together after the November elections are over. Speak truthfully, passionately, and intelligently. Share your views and ideas. Just make sure that your comments are tempered with respect for those with whom you are speaking.