OK, I get it. You have opinions and you want everyone to know them. I get it. You look at what’s going on in the world and you don’t like it. I get it. The things people are posting in your feed are alarming. I get it.
But I also can’t help noticing that no one is listening to you either. Yeah, your peers who hold the same exact opinion are cheering you on, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you got it. They are listening to you. But I don’t see you bringing anyone over to your team.
Where I like to occasionally post things about my kids or hobbies or something that made me laugh on social media, I also occasionally feel the need to jump into what I call the Online Mosh Pit. For those of you who’ve never been to a punk or metal show, a mosh pit is a swirling mass of violent dancing in a crowd at a concert. Just like when I was in my twenties at a punk show, standing on the edge of the chaos that is “The Pit,” I’m watching the violence online — the flailing fists, the bodies running into each other, the big guy jumping off the stage and knocking everyone over like bowling pins. Sometimes I watch as simply an observer, sometimes I watch too intimidated to jump in, and sometimes I jump right into the fray.
In the glory days of the mosh pit, an old school guy like me will tell you, there were rules of etiquette. It wasn’t all senseless violence. So, let me suggest some rules so you can be less of a %$#@& when the band breaks into your favorite chunky breakdown and you start swinging your fists around online.
1. Try Asking Some Questions Before Jumping Into “Battle Mode”
There’s a lot of miscommunication (and badly communicated posts) on social media. The nature of social media pretty much guaranties this. So, take some time to try to understand what the other person is actually saying. Even general questions like “Can you explain to me what you mean by that?” and “How did you reach that conclusion?” can move the conversation along. Practice active listening skills too. Repeat back to the person what he or she said in your own words: “So, if I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying… Do I have that right?”
2. Give a Compliment
Hey, give credit where credit is due! Don’t be afraid to say, “That’s a good point.” Or, at least, “I understand what you’re saying, but I think you’re mistaken because…” You could even say something like, “I appreciate your passion for an important issue like X, but I don’t know if what you’re saying are the best way to address it…” Such comments let your opponents know that you’re considering what he or she is saying and not just looking to smash him or her into bits.
3. Seek Common Ground
I’ve had interactions before where someone is going at me in full battle mode and I’ll point out, “You and I agree on a lot more than we don’t…” That usually changes the tone of the conversation. Point out where you agree. I find this makes the conversation more specific — more focused on working out the differences rather than just slugging it out. Try saying things like, “You and I agree on X, but we disagree on the best way to address X, so how do we work that out?”
4. Don’t Respond Emotionally
That should be obvious, but, well… Spend seven seconds on social media and you’ll see most people don’t do this. If you feel yourself get heated, wait until you’re feeling more level-headed to respond. That’s one of the advantages to having a discussion online versus in person.
Yeah, someone always wants to throw out “That’s just your opinion” to dismiss what you wrote, but there’s a difference between having a weak opinion (often based on emotion) and a strong opinion (based on research and backed by facts and logic). If you’re going to jump into a debate, do the hard work of reading and thinking first. (BTW, anyone saying “That’s just your opinion” is telling you they can’t come up with a good counter argument to what you wrote.)
6. Read Opposing Opinions
There is wisdom in the saying, “Know your enemy.” Where I certainly hope you don’t consider those you’re debating as your enemies, knowing the arguments your opponent would use before engaging them is wise. Not only will it better prepare you to respond to their arguments, but maybe — just maybe — you’ll be exposed to an idea you never thought about before.
7. Be Ridiculously Polite
Work to have a discussion, not an argument. Once it becomes an argument, no one is listening anymore. It’s very easy to read the wrong things into people’s words online because we can’t pick up on social cues, body language, tone of voice, etc. (With this, people feel more emboldened to be rude online.) Thus, I sometimes go out of my way to be extremely polite and make it clear my intentions are good when engaging with someone. When you’re interacting online, do whatever you would consider “overly-polite” and then be even more polite than that.
8. Don’t Assume
You know what they say about assuming, right? “To assume (ass-u-me) makes an ‘as*’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me.’” Don’t assume you know everything the other person believes just because they express a certain opinion. Unfortunately, we are infected with this “either/or” mindset when it comes to the political issues people debate today and we want to dump everyone into the “liberal” or “conservative” camp. This is just lazy. (For example, I could be a conservative who criticizes President Trump. I could be a liberal but against abortion.) People are a lot more reasonable and moderate than you think. Plus, every opinion has nuance. Unfortunately, the loudest voices are the most extreme, and we have the bad habit of lumping everyone into categories. I’ve had people assume things about me because I’m Christian. I’ve also had people lump me into both “liberal” and “conservative” camps because of views I’ve expressed, only to have them baffled when I express another view they consider to be part of the opposite camp.
9. Don’t Post Memes
Think you found that perfect meme to stick it to your opponents? Don’t post it. Memes are great for laughs, but they do nothing to move along a debate. Most memes are just cheap shots at the other side and they often commit a slew of logical fallacies. If you want to have a serious discussion, don’t post a meme. Just don’t.
10. Don’t React to a Headline
Read the whole article before you respond to it. There’s been many times I’ll be getting pushback for an article and it becomes clear to me that the person didn’t even read it, whether it’s an article I’m reposting or an article I wrote for my blog. (Also, if a person reposts an article without comment, don’t assume you know their motivation behind posting it.)
11. Address What the Person Actually Wrote
As the saying goes, “If I only had a dollar” every time I’ve had someone give pushback to something I’ve posted only to read his or her comments and realize the person is not addressing anything I wrote. Usually, they’re arguing about something someone else (such as a politician, journalist, etc.) said about the topic. I’ve responded to comments like these with something like, “OK, but that has nothing to do with what I wrote.” Please respond to what a person actually writes, not what you think he or she thinks.
12. Pick Your battles
If you’re going to go after everyone with a differing opinion than you, eventually people will just roll their eyes when they see your tiny picture and just scroll past your comments. Those who do respond will not be responding to what you write as much as responding to your personality because you’re annoying.
13. You Don’t Have to An Opinion About Everything
Hey, it’s alright to admit to yourself that you don’t know enough about a topic to have a strong opinion and to decide to sit this one out. When it comes to the vast amount of things that we can discuss and debate, we all don’t know a lot more than we do know. Most people are just regurgitating stuff someone in their “tribe” has said without doing the hard, honest work of researching and thinking to form their own, independent opinion. So, be humble. Be teachable. Spend some time reading and thinking before becoming a keyboard warrior.
14. Get A Life
Consider that you have more important things to do than pick fights online. Take a walk with a friend. Plant a garden. Write an elected official. Volunteer at the soup kitchen. Read a book with your kids. Invite that person you disagree with over for dinner and have a real conversation.
Also, ask yourself: Other than screaming online and voting once a year, what am I really doing to live out my convictions?
This is a good start, but coming up: Common logical fallacies to avoid on social media and — since this is a Christian blog — biblical guidelines for Christians for online interaction.