It can be demoralizing and frustrating to comment on a post that you have an opinion on. Sometimes, you can even get people to misinterpret what you said, assume that you meant something that you did not mean, or because they disagree with what you said, they go on to attack, insult, and demonize you for everyone else to see. I know that this has caused me to take pause on many occasions and to decide not to post when I felt that public discourse was a great way to resolve a conflict between my friends on Facebook. Even researched facts can cause an emotional reaction that will make your well-meaning post turn into something ugly.
So, what do we do? Do we sit back and stay silent on things that we think are important? Do we privately message our friends and asked them politely if they would you mind if we disagreed with them? Or do we let loose, and risk becoming king social media pariah? I don’t know about you, but none of these options sound very appealing to me.
Something that tends to work in face to face conversation could be a healthy solution to these sticky situations: it is called active listening. Active listening is a way to begin in conversation was someone that allows them to teach you more about how they think and who they are. Active listening requires a few important steps in order to make it effective on social media.
1. Eliminate assumptions.
If you begin questions or comments with assumptions like “Do you just hate all animals?” you will immediately put the person you are asking about on the defense. When we are defensive, we are not ready to open up to someone. This will stop the active listening process before it even begins.
2. Charity is key.
My philosophy professor in my first year of college taught this principle to us when having a debate that I will never forget. It is infinitely useful in trying to really understand someone’s argument. Charity is when you assume that the person you are speaking with knows what they are talking about. You argue against the strongest position of their argument that you can. If you can exercise charity on social media, you will be listening for the most valuable position the person you are posting about has. This will allow you to wrestle with potentially difficult problems with your own world view. It will also give you a much better chance to change the mind of the person you are having a discussion with, as you will be able to speak to the most well-thought-out position they have.
3. Express interest in the person you are speaking with.
It is important to people to feel that you are interested in them. We respond well to people who see us as human beings who are intelligent and have something valuable to say. If the person you are commenting back and forth with is more similar to you are than you think is a good way to practice this principle. It will help build connections with the person that will allow you to gain credibility with them, which will be important if you plan to change their minds on any topics. Not just what they think about the current topic.
4. Ignore the hate.
This is probably one of the most obvious and difficult things to do on Twitter and Facebook. Often there will be people who agree with you who just want to spit venom at people who disagree with them. They clearly have not read this article. Stop. Breathe. Send them the link to this and wash your hands of their actions. There will be people who disagree with you. They will call you racist, a hippie, stupid, brainwashed, ignorant, hateful, and a host of other things. These are not arguments. Stick to the topic and asking questions, and these trolls will run out of fuel for their fires. You are not in control of others in the thread. But you are in control of how you react to irrelevant comments.
There are many other tips and tricks on how to stay healthy in the technological age we live in. I will be posting on them occasionally, and you can feel free to reach out to me with any other help you need on how to keep your friends in the age of social media etiquette. I hope you were actively listening!