Should We Talk Politics on Facebook?

2016-04-18-1461011333-7070230-MollyHoward.jpgAuthored for Psyched in San Francisco by Molly Howard. Molly is a Bay Area therapist (LMFT #80834), writer, and mindfulness devotee.

2016-04-18-1461011380-1344508-TraciRubleheadshotPsychedinSanFrancisco.jpg Contributor and survey author, Traci Ruble, is a Bay Area Therapist, the Founder of Psyched in San Francisco and Co Creator of Sidewalk Talk Community Listening Project.

"Your political Facebook posts are classless," my colleague was informed. Her sin? She had dared go where many had failed before her, leaving smoldering embers of Facebook friendliness behind. Innocently enough, she wanted to engage her friends in a political conversation, this time about capitalism and its potential downfalls. Who could argue with that? But her friend wouldn't have it.

"Wait!" my colleague pleaded. She tried to justify her intentions. She offered her earnest hopes to speak factually and compassionately as a part of her deeply held core ethic. But the message from her friend was clear: healthy debate won't occur here. Don't discuss politics on Facebook.

These kinds of exchanges can put intense strain on lifelong relationships. Luckily my colleague's friendship recovered.

We run the risk of attack when we venture into these crucial topics. So should we just stop? Is it classless to talk about the fallout from our consumer economy? What about climate change or Black Lives Matter? Declasse, or now more important than ever?

The US is no longer a democracy, Princeton researchers share. Our political system has become so fraught with financial interests that lobbying elites have "substantial" impact on policy, while citizens like you and me have almost no influence, they concluded. (James, B.- 2014, April 18)

Meanwhile, scientists estimate that climate change--hastened by human activity--may be worse than we feared. But many would have us believe that global warming is a fabrication, despite consistent and overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Poverty kills, and Black and Brown people are shot dead for no good reason. Collectively, we are taking unprecedented notice of these calamities.

In yet another struggle finding us on the short end, we are at the mercy of the major networks to report the news, yet not all facts get reported when journalists and media elites don't know about them, or don't care. The near blackout of the Sanders campaign gave fuel to persistent conspiracy theories among those who've been feeling the Bern.

So we have almost no influence over the policy of our warming planet and we're left in the dark about movements mobilizing to help us.
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What are we supposedly helpless patriots to do? Skilled civic discourse will enrich both our relationships and our democracy. We must continue the dialogue in every sphere of life, while making direct action through civic engagement.

Could Facebook be used as a vehicle for exactly the kind of civic engagement a healthy democracy is predicated on? We've come across many arguments to the contrary: nothing will get accomplished, we won't change each other's minds. Let's just keep Facebook for lunch photography and spiritual memes.

However, our small survey of 129 anonymous respondents yielded some surprising results:

  • 86% said political debate is valuable when both sides of the discussion have basic communication skills to tolerate difference
  • 60% had their most recent political disagreement on Facebook
  • Only 3 people polled (~2%) felt talking about politics on Facebook was inappropriate
  • 29% of respondents were influenced by a friend's political posts on Facebook

Facebook and other user-controlled arenas where we're exposed to diverse topics can be fertile ground for political conversations. These are the new platforms of grassroots movements, offering a springboard for further research and action.

Tip-toeing won't get us anywhere and obviously, neither will ignoring the problems. What if we had skipped the Civil Rights Movement to protect whites who preferred segregation? Confronting sensitive topics through compassionate dialogue is paramount. Boldly, but kindly.

As money pours into politics, lobbyists distort issues with the spin of a hammerhead, obscuring necessary truths. The time is ripe for our participation.

Some of us are guilty of posting reactionary comments alongside apocalyptic environmental and human rights stories. We're passionate about Black Lives Matter, furiously typing our wishes that justice be served. Our anger is justified. Friends (most of whom we may never see again IRL) unfollow us, fed up with off-the-cuff remarks and high-and-mighty proclamations. Maybe we could do better inviting others into the exchange.

True listening is what's called for, not reactionary jabs or rose-colored avoidance. We need to offer our genuine curiosity and a felt sense of kindness, especially in the digital space of social media. We can thoughtfully inform each other, linking to research and facts, tackling necessary conversations head-on. We can do this both in our lived spheres and in our virtual ones.

Keep posting, keep commenting. Fight the good fight, respectfully. Just don't be a troll.

Of course we can't stop at Facebook. We need to increase civic participation through direct action and voting. As the current election season has seen, we might not always get the status quo.

Recent talking points show Republicans have softened their tune on climate change during primary season even though they've generally denied it. Hillary Clinton makes modest proposals to curb warming, while Bernie Sanders takes a more aggressive approach. Yet, both fall short of what some scientists hope for. It's now more urgent than ever that the public understands the issues.

We won't change everyone's minds, and maybe that's where we go wrong, white-knuckling it to the end goal. But we must engage the dialogue and no arena should be censored.

Tips for skilled civic conversations:
1. Drop the goal to convert.
Yeah, we want to get people to come around to our way. But our goal should be to educate while offering space to land on topics with complexity. When we know we're not being forced, our minds open. We'll also get more respect in return.
2. Lead with curiosity.
Curiosity doesn't mean weakness and it doesn't mean giving in. It means being humble enough to express interest in the viewpoint of another. We can be both curious and strong in our convictions. We can even be open to changing our own minds.
3. Challenge by sharing your values and supporting data.
You can't argue with the facts. (Though most of us have been guilty of it at some point.) But the most reasonable people on both sides of the aisle appreciate sound data. Support your position with facts and share why issues are important to you.
4. Breathe.
We won't get anywhere by freaking out. Stay in your body, remember who you are and why civic discourse is important to you. Be patient and remember not everyone will agree. Let go and take care of yourself.

References
Dokoupil, T. (2016, February 11). How Trump and company warmed to climate change. Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/how-trump-and-company-warmed-climate-change
Dokoupil, T. (2016, February 11). How Trump and company warmed to climate change. Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/how-trump-and-company-warmed-climate-change
Grim, R. (2016, March 15). All Three Networks Ignored Bernie Sanders' Speech Tuesday Night, 'Standing By For Trump'. The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/all-three-networks-ignored-bernie-sanders-speech-tuesday-night-promising-trump-would-be-speaking-soon_us_56e8bad1e4b0860f99daec81
Holthaus, E. (2016, February 12). Bernie and Hillary Have Major Differences on Climate. If Only Debate Moderators Would Ask. Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/02/12/bernie_sanders_and_hillary_clinton_differ_on_climate_change.html
James, B. (2014, April 18). Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer An Actual Democracy. Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/princeton-experts-say-us-no-longer-democracy
Lewis, K. (2011, July 26). Poverty Kills. Better Policy, Not Better Medicine, Is the Solution. Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristen-lewis/poverty-kills-better-poli_b_908795.html
Reich, R. (2016, March 31). Why The Major Media Marginalize Bernie. Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-reich/why-the-major-media-margi_b_9582644.html?utm_hp_ref=politics
The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2016, from https://www.wunderground.com/resources/climate/928.asp?MR=1