Janet Sumner Johnson
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Passionate Discussions on Social Media

Jun 23, 2014 Uncategorized 8 comments

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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?


8 Responses to “Passionate Discussions on Social Media”

  1. Marcia says:

    I think how people grew up has everything to do with whether they can see any kind of debate or disagreement as "friendly." I think to some, it's just too threatening to be on different sides. They feel it means the other doesn't/won't like them. Others feel alienated, as if the disagreement means you don't have enough in common, and disagreeing on some subjects will be deal-breakers for them. I avoid mud-slinging places on SM, and I'm careful with controversial subjects there. I'd rather discuss these with selected friends, privately.

  2. This is such good advice… I can't think of anything else to add to this top three. I just recently had a Facebook Flare Up with a friend, too. I backed off the issue immediately with her, even though I was stewing over some of assumptions she'd made. But hey, don't we all make misinformed assumptions from time to time?

  3. I'm not big on confrontation in life or on social media. I try to act like a lady on my blog, fb and Twitter. I think my history of being an elementary school teacher is always in the back of my mind. Many of my former students are now FB friends with me. I wouldn't want them to see me behaving inappropriately anywhere.

  4. It's a tricky balance. People have different standards for what constitutes a discussion … or an argument.

    If I post something on FB regarding (what I feel are) moderate opinions on gun control, I expect and anticipate being jumped on by those who disagree. That's given, if I choose to engage on that hot topic. I don't like confrontation, so I know if I put it out there, I'm going to have to deal with the fallout. Learn to tolerate the heat or get out of the kitchen, right?

    If I share what books are long time favorites of mine, I don't expect to be jumped on to the same degree … and yet I recently was, during a Twitter chat. I was astonished that someone could disagree with my favorites. When I told her I didn't want to argue, she said "But arguing is good."

    She thought we were having a conversation. I felt she was ripping me to shreds. She did not make a friend that night.

    Different people have different standards for discussion/debate/argument. I'm thinking that the art of debate — as it was once studied in high school — has declined. People don't know how to debate in a respectful manner, and they don't know what is appropriate to debate. If you want to disagree with someone over gun rights, vaccination, global warming … expressing your opinion respectfully will go a long way toward persuading others.

    Disagreeing with someone over THEIR favorite books … you are pretty much shooting yourself in the foot.

    It's late and I don't know if I made any sense …

  5. Hi, Janet. Those are good rules to keep in mind when using any form of social media.

  6. Jenn Bertman says:

    It's a tricky balance isn't it? I've found there are things I can say in person to someone and my good intentions or humor is apparent, but it's really hard to capture that nuance in writing. I guess that's what spawned emoticons, but if someone says something that feels snarky or combative to me but adds a winky face, that doesn't really do much to cool the sting. And I try not to weigh in on the heavy-weight controversial conversations, in large part because I end up investing way more energy and time to the discussion than I have to spare these days, and usually don't feel like I have anything to show for it other than getting myself worked up. At least if you're having lunch with a friend and get in a debate over gun control, you've also had lunch with the friend.

  7. Slamdunk says:

    Great topic Janet. Like you, I enjoy discussion, but have found social media not the best format for it. Your rules make sense,

    I'd just add to be open to other perspectives. It is easy for me to approach a topic from my own experiences and forget that others saw things differently growing up. If I really think about someone else's response, I often am surprised that it is a point that I had not considered.

  8. Jenn Bertman says:

    Slamdunk's comment also made me think that, while I'm careful about getting actively involved in discussions on social media, I have enjoyed being a fly on the wall as other people debate topics. I'm especially interested when the conversation is civil and respectful, and I greatly admire the people who are able to talk about complicated topics in a way that doesn't shut down or put down anyone else. My understanding and opinion has been broadened many times over because of comments and conversations that have happened via social media.

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