Janet Sumner Johnson
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Passionate Discussions on Social Media

Jun

23, 2014 |

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I am a person with strong opinions. Only natural considering my family loves to discuss. After meals, we’d sit around the family room and “passionately discuss” (my husband’s euphemism for the sport). I never thought much about it until my then-boyfriend, now-husband sat in with us. He was shocked that we hadn’t all leaped over the coffee table to beat each other up. I was shocked at his take on the evening.

But since that time, I have thought a lot about how a discussion can come across. Especially in the last few years, given the explosion of social media. I love discussing things passionately, but I have been amazed at how quickly a discussion turns to mud-slinging on the internet.

Instead of discussing issues, people turn to name-calling. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a jerk, and a whole slew of much more vulgar insults. To make things worse, intent of the Written Word can be much harder to interpret than that of the Spoken Word. Plus, it’s easier to be rude when you don’t have to look your audience in the eye, and it’s double easier when you can post that rudeness anonymously.  The exchanges can leave you feeling like this:

Which is why I’ve hesitated to join in. Instead, I’ve kept my posts/tweets/status updates innocuous.

Once, I broke my silence. Expressed my confusion on a current Media to-do. I sincerely wanted to understand and said as much, asking commenters to keep it civil.

From that, I had a “friend” explode on me. It was crazy. She unleashed her anger on me over a slew of subjects that had nothing to do with my post, and before I could even figure out what had gone wrong, she unfriended me. And I don’t just friend anyone on Facebook. This was someone I knew well. Someone I truly considered to be a friend. It made me sad.

More thinking ensued, and in the end, I determined that I can’t avoid discussion forever. But I refuse to let others dictate my behavior. As such, I have come up with three rules of conduct for social media:

1. Treat others the way you would want to be treated (the Golden Rule, yo).

This means you gotta show respect. People will have different opinions than yours, but going all kinds of piranha-crazy-fish on them isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. When someone can express their views passionately yet respectfully, I’m much more likely to listen. 

2. Let your work gel before hitting “send.”

Does what you are typing really need to be said? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Let it sit for a few hours and see if you still feel that responding to something is the best choice. But ask yourself: What am I accomplishing with this tweet/facebook post/response/social-media-message-of-choice? Are you really convincing others of something, or are you speaking to dead air? Are you venting, or are you defending something that needs defending? Time gives better perspective.

3. Accept that you cannot possibly please everyone.

No matter how nicely you say something, you will find people who just don’t want to hear what you have to say. People have their own reasons for doing what they do. I’ve found people ready to be offended at nothing. We can’t change others, we can only change ourselves. But if we are respectful in what we say on social media, try to consider other’s points-of-view, well, in my book we will be happier.

What suggestions do you have for engaging in social media debates?

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