This week was Super Tuesday where I live in Virginia. The political climate is heating up and we have 8 more months before the next Presidential election. This blog is my perspective on the expression of political views on social media. Like many Americans, I experience the intensity of radically different views on social media and long for a time when people could disagree without so much personalization and venom. We hear blame for this adversarial climate laid on the media, the “other side”, movement toward extremism, or even a reflection of our declining civilization. Regardless of the root cause, social media has become a welcoming stage to play out political drama.
Never before have average people had so much access to information (valid and invalid), and a free platform on which to express themselves to untold numbers of like-minded and vastly different people. For instance, it is common for those of us using Linkedin to have over 500 contacts in our network. I can’t imagine reaching 500 people, other than paid advertising or public speaking, any other way. On Facebook, the viral effect involves not only the potential for hundreds of your closest friends seeing your posts, but also the contacts of anyone who shares your post, as well as your comments on other people’s or page’s posts can be seen by the multitude of their friends. It’s enough to make your head spin. But while our brains are revolving around this idea, our culture is evolving, or devolving as the case may be, before our eyes.
I used to caution business owners to avoid posting anything political or provocative on their social media sites, for the risk of alienating people who think differently. Though I still believe this is sound advice, I get the impression a culture is developing that renders people dismissive of others’ views and overly righteous about their own positions. If this is true, people are less and less concerned about alienating others, even in a business is context. Clearly I am speaking of trends and culture shifts; there are a great majority of professionals who maintain a more neutral stance in their public voice. However, I am seeing more evidence of personal positioning on professional platforms.
I’m seeing more political posts on professional platforms, like a recent Linkedin post had a bold endorsement of one of the Presidential candidates, complete with large photo and a clear attack on the “other side”. Some people responded with support and others with a differing view. The dialog (such as it was) became snarky and futile. I had to wonder about the purpose and outcome of such a post. Some could argue that we are political creatures and to express our views makes us more human on these somewhat impersonal forums. Could be true, but how much of yourselves do you want to display to the world in a space that does not inherently encourage respectful discourse? When deciding to post something that may provoke negative responses, you may want to ask yourself if the content being shared is information that others would find beneficial, or is there an element of propaganda with the intention of eliciting support or criticism.
I don’t trust the flimsy ground of the internet to hold a space for true understanding. Face to face, person to person communication is where the sharp edges of conflict can best be smoothed. As humans we are wired to respond differently, more respectfully, in the presence of opposition. We tend to be more open and less aggressive and adversarial when we are engaged in personal communication. Political issues are highly personal and have become charged with a great deal of emotion. In an earlier post, In Support of Digital Civility, I advocate using social media, particularly on professional platforms, for sharing only content that adds value to others, refraining from comments on controversial posts, and take disagreements offline. I love social media, but one on one is where we truly connect as real humans and not just a name with a profile, who can be shot down with a clever barb, or dismissed with the click of a mouse.