Social media has become more than just a place to share family photos and the latest memes – it’s where many of us read the news and also post opinions. Therefore, it has become a battleground for almost every social and political issue. We debate with friends over which local restaurant has the best pizza but we also argue with our loved ones and even total strangers over the legitimacy of social justice movements.
Public discourse can certainly be entertaining, but the question is, does arguing on social media really do any good? We say yes, but only if done the right way! Here are some dos and don’ts of having productive discourse on social media.
Let’s start with the don’ts
Using caps lock, demeaning language or slinging insults
The quickest way to ensure someone stops listening to you and your point(s) is by attacking them. Using all capital letters to signify yelling, calling someone names or being snide with your comments can create a hostile environment that fails to encourage dialogue. Try to remain calm and remember that while you may disagree over a certain topic, you are still friends, acquaintances or maybe even sisters. Being closed-minded and hostile will only encourage the same response from the person with whom you are engaging.
Making up facts or spreading false information
A good unwritten rule for backing up arguments on social media is to use an unbiased source or something that has been peer-reviewed . Media bias is prevalent on social media so using skewed information to support your argument is a sure way to delegitimize your stance. To find unbiased sources, look for peer-reviewed articles and journals. You can also use websites such as https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/ to ensure you are not using sources with heavy bias.
Trying to win arguments
Trying to win a social media argument is an easy way to ensure that you do not, in fact, win . Instead, aim to learn a new opinion, share your own point of view or even find middle ground with the person with whom you disagree. If you are able to come to an agreement with someone, you will be able to build rapport and be better able to explain why you disagree with them.
And the do’s:
When possible, take the conversation offline
While the entire point of social media may be to have a public forum to post your opinions, differences and hostility are often better handled in a one-on-one conversation. Having arguments publicly leaves you vulnerable to having a third-party chime in and potentially make things worse as well as inviting criticism for your opinions from outside spectators. Words can also be misinterpreted via text and over the web. If possible, have an in-person conversation or a quick phone call. You will be able to hear their tone of voice and will have to spend less time interpreting the true meaning of the other person’s words or phrases.
It is also important to learn when to walk away from an argument. If the other person resorts to personal attacks or continues to act hostile towards you, walk away. There is no world in which a Facebook argument is more important than your mental health.
Try to see the other person’s point of view
We don’t exist in a bubble. The people we know and have met throughout our life each bring with them their own past experiences and beliefs. Forcing your views on someone, or living in an echo chamber of your own beliefs can actually stunt your development and understanding of our ever-changing world. Being open to the opinions and viewpoints of others can help both your personal and professional development.
“Every single person, no matter their background, culture, race or religion, is on a journey in life trying to form their own understanding based on their experiences, societal norms and everyday influences. The way I think is a direct reflection of the journey I’ve been on.” -@glographics
Use “I” statements
Stating a statement with “I understand …,” or “I believe …,” may seem counterintuitive when you are trying to have discourse but it can save you from sounding as if you are attacking the other person. Using statements that start with “You …,” could make the other person defensive and make them more resistant to your point.
Social media provides us with a great opportunity to have open and honest dialogue with many different people who have many differing views. It can be a great tool for expanding your opinions and mind.
However, social media can also be toxic when used to attack others or invalidate someone’s opinions or lifestyle. Finding a balance is key for not only your mental health but also for improving how you communicate with others. There are some topics and arguments that we cannot simply “agree to disagree” on and that is why the unfollow and unfriend button exist.