If Facebook existed in 1860–a year before an actual civil war that slaughtered 600,000 Americans– the online chatter might resemble what we are seeing now. Two sides swarming in their own bubbles, accusations growing more and more obscene…Liars! Murderer! Treason!
How in the hell are we going to survive another 95 days of this? And what will happen once one side
The vast majority of our political conversations now take place online–specifically Facebook (with a dash of Twitter). That’s depressing, because Facebook conversations usually suck.
- One person shares an article.
- Another person reads the headline (who has time to read the whole text).
- If the headline says something positive about their candidate they give it a LIKE, and if they are really in the mood, write a comment: “Amen” OR “I agree completely”
- If the headline says something mean about their candidate, then they ignore it, block the person, or comment.
- That negative comment will typically serve no purpose, leading to a general back-and-forth where each side rants a bit until they’re bored.
The same type of negative comments pop up again and again. Consider this random list of actual comments received on my last blog post re: third party voting this election:
- The Personal Insult: “You seem like a bit of an idiot” [Right to the point]
- The Personal Insult Plus: “Jeez Paul, you pretty much proved to everyone that you’re an idiot. I know it’s been said before but it’s worth repeating. You sir are a simpleton.” [A more complex slur with the underlying assumption that other people agree with them]
- The Bigoted Slur: “I bet your wrist has enough flapping action to do it (cast a vote for Hillary Clinton)” [We don’t all have limp wrists]
- The Analogy That Doesn’t Really Work: “Experience does not equal qualification. I have experience flying. I am not qualified to pilot.” [What? If you have experience being a pilot, then you may be qualified to be a pilot]
- The Historian: “Sorry this is long, but if you read this I promise you will learn at least one detail you didn’t know along with 99.9% of the country.” [Followed by 2000 word essay with reference to Jefferson, Lincoln, and one ‘fact’ that they never taught you in school]
- All the Emotions with Exclamation Points: “Tell that to to four dead Americans that were killed in Benghazi!!!!”
- The Conspiracy Theory: “Is it just coincidence that Clinton’s adversaries seem to meet untimely deaths? JFK Jr. was running for the NY US Senate seat filled by Hillary Clinton. He could have run for president and won. What do you know about that?” [I know nothing about that.]
- Just Read the Internet: “Sad that you blockheads must take so many with you. Both party’s have been in the pockets of the banking cartels since before the Civil War. It really takes little effort on the internet to see this.” [Where can I find this internet?]
- The Office Space: “I have thought really, really hard and I will burn this place to the ground before I vote for either one of the major party candidates.”
Political dialogue on Facebook is mostly useless.
It does not have to be.
Empathy and genuine listening is lost online. But, Facebook is not going away, and we must figure out a better approach. If you want to have some impact with a conversation on Facebook, one option is to consider a classic concept known as Rapoport’s Rules:
When trying to engage someone and challenge their argument:
- First, re-express the other person’s position, so they know you understand what they are trying to say.
- Indicate the areas where you agree, even if only very generally
- Let them know if their article or post has made you learn anything or sparked some new thought in you.
- Only after that long preamble, offer some criticism that you feel is important.
A hypothetical example: “I appreciate that you are worried about a Trump presidency and believe that a 3rd party vote this election may serve little purpose except helping Trump win. I agree that we must think through the exact consequences of our vote, particular in this unique year. The post made me consider exactly what my ultimate objective should be when voting this time. However, I genuinely believe that having more than 2 options is critical for future elections. While they may not win, there are significant benefits for a 3rd party candidate to show stronger support this election. In some states, achieving 5% of the vote may affect ballot access. With 15% in polling, a candidate may also qualify for debates. That’s enough for me to continue to support a 3rd party this time around.”
This is all holier-than-thou with a dash of Pollyanna. But, it’s probably the only way to usefully engage with a political adversary on Facebook. Even then, the other person will not suddenly have a change of heart. And if they did, they certainly wouldn’t admit to it on Facebook. BUT, you may still have made two key influences:
- Softened the Position–Made them think a little harder before they automatically parroted something next time.
- Influenced the Lurker–Changed the mind of the truly undecided person who was reading the exchange but would never comment on the post itself.
We are stuck with political drama on Facebook. As awful as it is now…we can still use it for the good. Don’t block all the people who disagree with you. Don’t ignore everything they say. Don’t insult them. Try to honestly engage. We put people on the Moon, a rover on Mars, and flung stuff way past Pluto. We can figure this out.