For a lot of us, Facebook is an excruciating place to be right now. It feels like everyone has lost their minds, and everyone is angry. Virtually any comment on the election is going to stir up anger and discontent, and don’t even think about polite disagreement!
I am really active on social media, and have developed a principle and, out of that principle, six rules for my interactions on Facebook around politics (or, in fact, any controversial topic). They seem to work for me, so I thought I would share them with you.
The principle is this: There is no such thing as online relationships. There are only relationships.
So, I ask myself how I would handle this if we were face to face. We have had elections for generations – how would we handle this if there was no Facebook? If instead of a meme on your Facebook wall, you put a Sander’s sign in your yard – How would I deal with that?
And that principle has led me to developing six rules for how I strive to interact on Facebook. I don’t always get it right, but I am trying really hard.
* * *
Rule #1: Own your space
On Facebook, we all have our own profile page. When we post things, that is where they end up. I find it helpful to think of that wall as someone’s front yard.
In our front yard, we self-express. In my front yard, I have rose bushes, peach trees and wild flowers. My neighbor has mulch and rocks, and another neighbor has a broken down car. Our front yards are the “us” that we present to the world, and we decorate them in ways that tell the world who we are.
So, decorate your yard. If you support Trump, put a sign up in your front yard – it’s your right. Heck, put up 50 signs and a Trump flag. Likewise, if you love some Bernie, then post away about him – on your wall. But don’t put signs up in my yard – which leads us to…
Rule #2: Respect other people’s space.
Actually, that’s pretty good advice anytime, online or off. If Hillary is your person, there is nothing wrong with putting a Hillary sign in your yard, or a meme on your Facebook wall. But don’t put a sign in my yard, or post a meme on my wall.
And just like you wouldn’t (I hope) put graffiti all over a sign I had put on my yard, don’t go on my wall and start attacking things I post there. Because remember – the goal of posting things is self-expression. Not argument.
If we were having a cookout in my yard, grilling hotdogs and hamburgers, most of us recognize that it would be rude of you to come in my yard and start telling me all the awful things that happen to animals in the industrial food system. Because I wasn’t inviting debate – I was trying to have fun with my friends.
If I did want to educate people about the harm their eating habits cause, by far the most effective way to do that would to do it with people I have developed trust and relationship with, and who have invited me into their space. In other words, people with whom I have a relationship. So always…
Rule #3 Respect relationships
It might be my most consistent, longest held position, but people matter. Relationships matter.
Whoever get elected this fall, we are going to need each other to survive. Not because the candidates are so bad, but because we are humans, who need each other in order to survive.
So, privilege relationships. Whose yard do you feel comfortable walking into in the real world? Whose yard do you feel comfortable critiquing? People we have a relationship with.
So, if you and I don’t know each other, and you post a sign in your yard I disagree with, I am not going to jump your fence and tear it down. If I am trying to understand your position, I might ask you about it if I see you in the yard, but I seriously doubt I would put up a counter-sign in your yard. So if I don’t know you, and you post something to your wall I disagree with, I am going to just walk on by. Or if I am curious, I might ask what you meant. But I won’t start dueling memes with you.
Likewise, if we have a good relationship, and you post something to your wall that I disagree with, I might say that in the comments. But I won’t say you are a jerk, or call you a baby killer – any more than I would say that to your face, standing in your front yard if you had a bumper sticker on your car I disagreed with.
Rule #4: Ask non-judgemental questions, and listen to understand, not to respond
Any hope we have of positive change in this world is going to come about because we listen to each other. And we cannot listen to each other if we are talking.
So, if your relationship permits, or if they invite comment, ask serious, nonjudgmental questions, and really listen to the answers. There is a world of difference between telling someone Senator Clinton’s stance on Syria factored into your deciding to not support her and calling her “Killary” and saying she is a murderer on a massive scale.
Would you say that to this person if they were really in their yard? Would you say it in that tone, and ask it that way? If not, reframe it, and then listen to the answers. And thank them for sharing their thoughts. Explain yours, without attacking theirs. If they seem open to it, offer critique of ideas, without attacking people.
If they ask to not continue this, disengage. This often looks like, “I don’t want to argue about this” or “We will have to agree to disagree”. When people say they do not desire to debate you, listen to them, and step out.
And recognize you are probably not going to change their mind. And that is OK. Because it was on their wall, and you are going to respect their space. Right?
Rule #5: Remember that Facebook is an opt-in medium
If your route to work included going past a house with an ugly yard, you can always choose another route to work. In the same way
That means you get to decide what you see on Facebook. If your brother-in-law’s annoying pro-Bernie meme’s bother you, then unfollow him until after the election. If your friend from high-school you haven’t had a voice conversation with in 32 years freaks you out with her conspiracy theories, then feel free to unfriend her, or perhaps just unfollow her.
You can control your privacy settings so only your friends can see what you post. You can set it so only your friends can comment on your posts. You can delete comments on your posts that offend you.
You are in control of your experience on Facebook. If you don’t like what you are seeing there, it is up to you to change it.
Rule #6: Understand that this is what democracy looks like.
In a democracy, we each get a vote and an opinion. We get to own them, for better or worse. And we all have the right to our own. And the only way to make sure we get to exercise our right to our own opinion is to fight for the rights of others to express theirs. If they don’t have the right to express their beliefs, it isn’t democracy.
Debating ideas with people who want to debate them is good. So is leaving people alone who want to post their sign in their yard to express their support of a candidate. Both are necessary parts of the process, and both are worthwhile. By respecting the process, and by respecting each other, we make this country better.
* * *
So those are my six rules, and overall, they work for me. I get in very few Facebook arguments, and when I have, it’s because I have violated one of my rules.
How about you? How are you navigating Facebook this election season?