Civil Discourse and Social Media

Even before the results on Tuesday, there was so, so much that I did not like about this election season. There were many times when I would look at Facebook and then sign off, riled up about something an acquaintance had posted with which I disagreed. Sometimes I would respond; often I didn’t.
In hindsight, I wish I had responded more. I wish I had prioritized speaking up against misogyny and white supremacy over the feelings of the person posting. And honestly, I was nervous about putting my views out there. 

Prior to the election it wasn't even the political posts I disagreed with that made me the most upset; it was the posts that urged people to stop posting about politics. One such post even came from my high school social studies teacher- someone from whom I learned about history and politics. Since I first started noticing these "anti-political" posts, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship between social media and civil discourse. 

Post-election, I’ve been feeling like this topic is even more pressing. When and how we speak up for justice is no small matter and the consequences of silence are real. 

I've come to a number of conclusions about social media and political discourse and a lot more questions. There is too much I want to say for one post, so consider this Part 1.  

First, I believe we all have a responsibility to be informed and to care about little ‘p’ politics. I don’t mean that everyone needs to be active in a political party or know the names of every representative in their state, but I do mean that we should recognize that we share in the responsibility of self-governance. The people we elect to represent us make decisions that impact our lives, especially at the local level. Politics impact health care, education, housing, social services- so many really essential services. If Facebook and other social media tools can be venues to learn about and engage in conversation about the decisions we make as a collective- all the better.
I don’t accept that caring about and speaking out about those “political” issues, and the people that make decisions about them, should be kept out of our social media lives. I love a good cat video and I adore pictures of cute babies, but I also believe Facebook can and should be a space to talk about big issues. I don’t have many other spaces in my life where family and friends are connecting and sharing multiple times a day. If the tool exists we might as well use it for as much good as possible.
One of the reasons being voiced for not posting about politics is that you can’t change someone’s mind. Minds change all of the time. The relatively recent shift in support for marriage equality is a good example. I agree that most people don’t completely change their perspective on an issue through one conversation, but we could all benefit from recognizing that our beliefs and values are shaped by those around us. Along these lines, conversation and even disagreement isn’t an activity with a winner and a loser. We can learn from and be shaped by those we disagree with. And we should certainly be modeling that kind of humility for our children.

The biggest reason I wish I had responded more to those I disagreed with is that silence does nothing for justice. If you aren't feeling particularly oppressed or marginalized, you may not see social media as an opportunity to speak up and speak out. For those that are marginalized and their allies, social media can be a powerful tool for mobilizing and bringing attention to issues that don't receive much in the mainstream media. Real revolutions have been stoked on social media. Social movements have been born with a hashtag.If I’m serious about being an advocate for equity then I have to lean into the discomfort more often. I can’t just like and share the things I agree with. I have to engage-- put myself out there, use my voice.
So much more I want to process and write about, including why I’m feeling the need to get to know my anger, and why I think it is so important to learn how to articulate our beliefs and values.
In the meantime, I want to know your thoughts on politics, discourse and social media. Do you engage in political conversation on Facebook? Do you comment when you disagree? Let me know!

"Like" Photo credit: angermann via / CC BY-SA