Lately, my Facebook news feed has become a “Mad Libs” of political drama:
“You stupid (pick one: Republicans or Democrats) don’t know how to do anything. If (fill in name of political leader) wasn’t such a (fill in nasty adjective), then maybe I wouldn’t hate you so much. You ignorant (expletive!)!”
While I thoroughly believe that everyone has a right to speak their mind – especially on their own Facebook page – it can become absolutely exhausting to wade through all the angry vitriol that elections tend to bring out. Your normally kind-hearted, quiet friend starts to foam at the mouth at the mere mention of a political hot topic, your Uncle Bob starts fights during the family Labor Day Picnic, and you find political signs stuck in your yard by impassioned neighbors.
So how to walk the line between being informed and being bombarded? Well, that’s what I set out to do with this handy guide. Hopefully you can use it over the coming months to keep your cool in a hot political environment.
Facebook: Learn how to hide the rabble-rousers
Ah, Facebook. For better or worse, it has permeated our lives. In a 5 minute scroll through your news feed, you can learn that Aunt Shirley bought a new dress today, your old high school friend had a baby, and that your cousin took a quiz to learn which Harry Potter character they are.
Of course, through all the day-to-day updates, there are also those who use Facebook as a platform. Sometimes for a business, sometimes for a cause, sometimes for politics. Seeing these updates day-in and day-out can be irritating at best (if I didn’t sign your petition the first time, I won’t sign it the 20th!), and downright infuriating at worse (angry name-calling is automatic disqualification.)
Fortunately, Facebook has a button to fix this. For those people you don’t want to de-friend, but need to not see their incessant political rantings (I’m looking at you, Uncle Bob!), there’s an “unsubscribe” button. It’s not permanent – you can undo it at any time. Simply hover your mouse on the upper right part of someone’s post, and you’ll see a down arrow. Click on it, and you’ll see all sorts of options for weeding out this person’s posts. Click “unsubscribe”.
Learn how to politely maneuver a conversation
You’re out to lunch with an old friend – catching up on the gossip, discussing your latest book reads, talking vacation plans – when BAM! Out of nowhere, your friend has her fists clenched, and she is working herself into a frenzy over the latest political issue. What was a nice lunch has turned into a stress-fest. How do you change topics without being rude to your friend? Usually something like this works well:
“Shirley, I can see you are really passionate about this. I’d love to hear more about your political thoughts sometime, but right now I’d love even more to hear more about your vacation plans. Where did you say you were staying in Aruba?”
If she doesn’t get the hint, and keeps up her rant, being direct is absolutely appropriate:
“Shirley, I can tell this is an important subject for you – but lately I’ve been hearing about politics everywhere, and it’s stressing me out a little. Can we talk about something else?”
Stay away from the “bumper sticker” mentality
Have you every seen a political bumper sticker that holds a view opposite yours, and it has convinced you to switch positions? No? Me neither. Nor do I know anyone who has ever been convinced to change positions by a bumper sticker. Slogans are catchy, and are a necessary part of political campaigning. However, in our sound-bite, 120-words-or-less culture, nearly everything is reduced down to a quick catchphrase.
We all know that in reality, the issues that are debated so hotly are incredibly complex and nuanced. It can be so tempting to see a slogan or catchphrase on Facebook or Twitter, and want to quip back with your own catchphrase. The reality? No one will be convinced, no one will learn anything, and everyone will simply walk away irritated. It is extremely difficult to have a discussion on a platform where there is some degree of anonymity, and where you are constrained by word counts. Tone can’t be properly read, and tempers flair much more quickly than in person.
If you really want to discuss politics properly, create a forum to do so. Invite everyone to read a book or a watch a show or read articles on a subject, and then get together for coffee. Have ground rules – no name-calling, bring resources (for fact-checking!), and have time-outs if tempers get to high. This is an atmosphere where learning can occur, and who knows? You might come away with a new point of view.
The 24-hour news cycle is NOT your friend.
News-only networks have one goal: to break a story first. To do this, fact-checking goes out the window, sources are dubious at best, and sensational headlines are a must. This is not the place to become informed. At the very least, wait to watch a nightly news program, or a weekly show, where there is time to check sources and credibility.
The Economist is widely touted by both the right and left as an excellent source for non-partisan news and polls. Factcheck.org is also an excellent non-partisan source to check all the claims you hear in debates and in speeches by politicians.
Have politics-free zones
My husband loves politics – he sees it almost as a sport, the way some guys watch football. He loves to discuss it, and I love to discuss it with him. No matter how much I agree with him, though, the mere subject can leave me feeling stressed out. Having politics-free zones are incredibly important.
The dinner table is a politics-free zone – I want to enjoy my meal, without a side of the latest political polls. The bedroom is also a politics-free zone – sleep and sex only! This is especially important for you in relationships or with families that have diverging views (which most do). Having “safe space” can be a very helpful thing – somewhere to escape to should things get too heated. Knowing your own hot-button issues can be helpful, too. If there is something that gets you particularly riled up, make sure to stop a discussion before it starts if it’s around that issue. If you’re angry, you won’t convince anyone of your side, you’ll just make everyone else defensive.