In Part I of this series, I wrote the story of Ashli Babbitt, whose social media use was instrumental in radicalizing her and, ultimately, in her death. There are certainly many people who frequently use social media without being led to such extremes. Yet, those who attempt to “discuss” politics on social media not only harm themselves, they also harm their own causes.
As I’ve written before, social media posts are not discussions or conversations. All they do is rev up one’s own negative emotions, those of people who agree with one, and those who disagree. The latter are triggered to commit even more strongly to their original views. Strong negative emotions wipe out one’s ability to discuss things effectively.
In an AARP Bulletin, CBS news correspondent John Dickerson was asked how social media has made the job of U.S. president even harder. Dickerson replied, “It has inflamed our worst impulses by making us draw quick conclusions and play to an impatient crowd. Political campaigns were already encouraging short-term thinking. Social media makes that even worse.”
What’s worse, strong negative emotions are actually physically addictive. The more you allow yourself to dwell in them, the stronger your need for them. They arise on auto pilot, usually at the worst possible moments.
Yet, for many people, at least some social media use is necessary. As a self-employed person, it is a virtual necessity for me to have at least some Facebook and LinkedIn presence.
What I Do
For what it’s worth, here’s what I do. First, I never get into politics on social media. I do sometimes blog about things that are not inherently political but which have been politicized by an increasingly polarized society. I do share my blog posts on Facebook and LinkedIn. But I never interact with or initiate political Facebook posts.
I spend almost no time reading down my Facebook timeline or going to the timelines of others. When I do, I avoid interacting with people who get political. I do interact with purely social posts and some informative posts about performing arts, new books, and things of that sort. Facebook sends to your timeline the sorts of things you interact with, and not those you appear to ignore. Thus, when I do have the time and inclination to read down my timeline, I no longer find political posts, at least not near the top.
Here are some things you can do to make your social media activity safer for you as well as your friends.
Take a Vacation
Try staying off social media completely for one weekend. You may be willing to avoid initiating political posts, but it is more difficult to avoid reacting to things others post. That’s why I suggest you stay off altogether, for just one weekend. You might make an exception for tweets to and from family members, such as children letting you know where they are and what time they expect to be home. Just one weekend. Notice how you feel at the end of that weekend. I predict you’ll feel more relaxed, more pleasant. Next, try staying off for three or four days and see how it goes.
Consider Your Interests
Now do something I teach people to do when preparing for a consensus-seeking conversation or any possibly touchy discussion. Make a list of your interests, in this case, your interests in social media. What do you really want to get from it? Here’s a list of safe and healthy interests you might consider listing:
- Reach out to customers/clients
- Social interaction with friends and family
- Something to do when taking a break from work or to relieve boredom
- Learn about events of interest
- Follow actors or other entertainers as a fan
- Compensate for isolation during the pandemic
When you return to social media, interact with those people and those posts that mesh with your safe and healthy interests. Facebook will begin to curate your timeline based on your interactions. Soon, you’ll see fewer political rants to tempt you.
You can also create a Facebook Friends list of those who don’t post political rants and who you really want to stay in touch with. To learn how, click the little arrow in the upper right and select “Help and Support” from the drop-down menu. Or contact me, and I’ll talk you through it. Then enter the search term “lists.” You might call a list “Healthy” or “A list.”
When you post something, in the upper left, you can change your audience from “Friends” to “A list,” or whatever you wish. You can also adjust your timeline to show you only things from a particular list, but you have to do it every time you go on Facebook.
What if your interests include some things that might not be quite so safe and healthy?:
- I need a place to sound off about politics
- I don’t have time to watch much news on TV or read a newspaper, so I catch the major events from my friends posts.
We all need to express our concerns, but there are healthier places and ways to do this than on social media. Try journaling your thoughts and concerns. Set them aside, then go back, reread, and see if you can formulate some civil ways to express these concerns in a true conversation.
Whether or not you begin with journaling, converse with an individual about your concerns. Choose the other person wisely, not someone who will rant and rave and tell you what you already know, nor someone who will rant and rave and tell you what you don’t want to hear. Try to find someone who tends to keep their cool, and is willing to look at various points of view.
As for learning news, Part III of this series will offer time-saving alternatives to social media. So stay tuned. Meanwhile, please let me know how the suggestions above work for you.