How to Survive an Election Year Without Losing Social Media Friends

It's that time again. Election year politicking has begun.

With social media being a part of most everyone's day, the attack memes and Repubs vs. Demos and vice versa has started en force. I've already had three or four friends threaten to un-friend or un-follow anyone who posts hate-filled political stuff.

But is it really the political stuff that's bad? Or is it how our "friends" handle and reply to political posts? Is there a softer, gentler way to handle politics in social media? I hope so, because in past years, my feeds have gotten pretty ugly.

Without a scientific study or expert opinions, here are some general rules of common courtesy you can follow in order to keep political posts (or any other topics, too) a little more "friend"-ly.

  1. "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Gandhi's advice can work in any situation. Since you can't change how others act or what they write on social media, the only thing you can change is how YOU respond.

  • Don't post political memes with a hateful tone or outright accusations or attacks on the other side. If your point is to persuade someone to vote for a particular candidate or issue, attacking or accusing isn't going to accomplish that. You're not going to change someone's vote that way; you're only going to piss people off. Ask yourself these three questions before posting political memes: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
  • Don't post political memes or information that you know nothing about. If you don't follow the news, current events or politics, you really shouldn't be posting about it. Just because you're Republican or Democrat doesn't give you the right to perpetuate misinformation. There is a lot of wrong information being circulated by both sides. Don't be a part of it!
  • If one of your friends posts something you know to be untrue or an extremely twisted or stretched version of what you believe to be the truth, don't post angry, snotty, retaliatory replies. If you feel there is an opportunity to educate, do so in an informational way. There's a big difference between, "You're an idiot. Obama created millions of jobs. Get your facts straight, bozo," and, "I read in [Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Times, etc.] that the unemployment rate has gone down drastically in the past seven years. And I just looked on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and their statistics say the same thing. Can you help me understand what you're trying to convey here?" Keep comments in educational, conversational terms. I've done it and I've had people thanking the originator of the thread for a good discussion. I have also thanked posters for clarifying information I posted in a nice, civil manner. Which brings me to ...
  • You don't have to be right all the time. If you post something and you're corrected with facts and sources, admit you're wrong and thank the person who helped you see the issue or candidate correctly. We shouldn't be so blinded by our political party that we can't see the forest through the trees.
  • Take the emotion out of posts and replies. This is probably the hardest thing to do when talking about politics. We Americans are passionate, patriotic people. We don't want our country or people to suffer and we think "our" party is the best to fix what ails us. That's why we have several political parties (yes, there are more than two). But when you're writing on social media, a little emotion often goes too far. Since there's no body language associated with it, a tiny bit of exasperation can be read as overly aggressive, and a pinch of potty mouth can portray you as a loose cannon ready to explode.
  • Finally, don't take things so damned seriously. If someone posts something you disagree with, pause for a while before replying. If you later feel you must respond and respond strongly, make sure you're prepared for an electronic ass-whipping.
  • If you get into it with someone online, the friendship is usually salvageable by picking up the phone and giving your friend a call. You could even private message them. Say something like, "Wow, that thread was really intense. Are you feeling ok? I know I'm feeling worn out by it. You know I love you and that discussion was just politics, right?"
  • "We live our lives looking through filters created by our programming and conditioned beliefs," says Los Angeles, Calif. Clinical Psychologist Cynthia Stevens, Ph.D. "Our 'lens of interpretation' is often heavily clouded when we engage our political body. It is essential that we discipline ourselves when speaking politically if we want to see and experience results."

    If none of the tips above pertain to a specific situation, as my parents used to say, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." Many political memes are meant to rile people up and piss them off. Don't take the bait.