4 Ways to Improve the State of Political Discourse Online

It's that time of year when we are tired of talking politics and start avoiding political discussion online, blocking friends, unfollowing acquaintances, and ignoring extreme rants -- right? While we are all entitled to our freedom of speech, political discourse online has a tendency to get out of hand.

But you're not alone in this mess of debate online. Statistics show that 55 percent of all Internet users feel the Internet increases the influence of those with extreme political views. When it comes to political social networking content, 73 percent of users sometimes agree or never agree with their friends' political postings. And what do they do when they disagree? Well, 66 percent of users simply ignore these posts.

But instead of ignoring posts and comments as your blood boils with disagreement, I propose we change the state of political discourse online. After all, we are all debating for a common cause: the well-being of our nation and the citizens who reside within it.

Before you throw in your two cents on a topic, consider four ways to improve political discourse online and avoid unnecessary negative backlash:

1. Offer ways to make a difference.

Instead of offering only opinions in your rebuttals, offer ways to make a difference and improve the issue at hand. Even if you're disagreeing with someone, you're adding value to the conversation and it will be less likely to garner a negative response.

Suggest looking through petitions on Change.org, taking polls online or writing to your state officials. Opinions are great to have, especially if they are backed up by personal experience and factual information, but taking action is what will generate change.

2. Don't lay blame on individuals.

Think back to the most toxic political debates you've been part of or read. Why did you or the other person get so heated? Probably because it got personal.

Negative political discourse online today often isn't instigated by the issues, but by blaming political parties, certain politicians, or by simply insulting the argument. Focus on the issues instead of making the debate personal. You'll be more likely to elicit a conversation rather than a retort or a fight.

3. Listen to the other side.

It's easy to jump on the argument train and never look back, especially if you are debating with someone in a different political party. However, before you close the door behind you, actually listen to what they have to say. You might learn something new, change your point of view, or understand why the person holds certain opinions. In fact, 16 percent of social networking users say they have changed their views about a political issue after discussing it or reading posts online.

As in any conversation, actually listening -- or in our case, reading -- is key.

4. Respect viewpoints and opinions in responses.

This final tip may sound elementary, but it's the most ignored part of political discussions online.

Just as listening is important in truly understanding the issue and the debate, respecting opposing opinions is even more important. Not showing respect for the opposing side says you don't care, an implicit insult. And what better way to elicit a negative, unconstructive response?

We could all show a little respect in our political discourse online, and just think what a difference it might make if we all took this advice.

So before you turn off your computer or ignore scathing political retorts on Facebook, take a breath and read, listen, and respect the author of that post. Not all political discourse is negative -- 61 percent of online adults agree that the Internet exposes them to a wider range of political views. So let's do what we can to improve political discourse on the Internet.

What else would improve the state of political discourse online?