Sunday, August 21, 2016

Social Media and Politics Makes for Odd Bedfellows

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump - 2016 presidential candidates
If you believe, as the saying goes, that "politics makes strange bedfellows," then politics and social media make for some truly odd "bedfellows."

In the current hyper-charged electoral season in the United States it seems social media streams are overflowing with political points of view ranging from bemused commentary to out-and-out hate speech for one presidential candidate or the other.

This, perhaps inevitably, has led to those posting or those seeing extreme posts to invite anyone who disagrees with them to "unfriend me now."

It’s such a phenomenon it’s become a national story with Politico, for example, reporting this week that Trump and Clinton wreck Facebook friendships.

But is "unfriending" – the Facebook term (or unfollowing or disconnecting on other platforms) – the only or even the best option?

Recently, I was asked to add some tips for a story in the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat and Chronicle: Tips to deal with political haters online.

That story featured my tips and those from Scott Talan, an American University communication teacher who studies social media and politics. His tips are all sound:
  • "Take a breath or two" and think it through before commenting on a friend's post or unfriending someone.
  • Instead of sharp opinion statements, pose questions such as "how can we trust her?" or "is he stable enough to be president?"
  • Remember that this will all be over in November, and your friendships could and should outlast the next presidential term.
  • And, in general, "try not to be like the candidates."
My additions were:
  • Simply ignore the people posting things that upset you. Facebook’s algorithm will eventually push anything they post further and further down your news feed since it gives priority to close family and friends and people you interact with regularly. You can also start interacting more with the people you enjoy — this will hasten the process of the others being pushed down.
  • If you must comment on posts, stick to facts and questions. It’s hard to argue with the former (especially if you drop in a citation and/or link). Or ask questions that might provoke new thinking.

But I got to thinking and there are other things you can do: 
  • Another way to quickly bury someone who is posting things you don’t want to see on Facebook is to use FB’s “Hide” feature (see pic). At the top right of any Friend’s post the drop-down menu will include Hide and Unfriend. The first means you’ll see a lot less from the person and (if you have a lot of friends) eventually nothing from that person unless they tag you in a post. Unfriending is the “nuclear option” and although the person you unfriend gets no notification of this they will soon figure it out if they try to message you or tag you on Facebook.
  • On Twitter a best practice is to start using the Lists feature to organize the people you follow into those who are friends and/or providing relevant posts. This cuts the “Twitter firehose” news feed down to size and can have the added benefit of ensuring you don’t see posts from people who annoy or upset you. 

And in all of this hyper-charged political season one piece of advice for anything on social media still holds true: “Would you be proud to show you grandmother whatever it is you are about to post?”

Good friends and smart people can agree to disagree on one thing and not lose a friendship over it. Social media doesn’t need to be a place where we only associate with people we agree with 100 percent of the time – that’s the kind of thinking that has turned Washington into a laughingstock…

What do you think?


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