We live in a social media age. Unless you’ve chosen to live off the e-grid you’re probably participating in some kind of social media experience, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
Incredibly, more people are now active monthly on Facebook, about 2.07 billion, than the population of the United States and China combined. It’s a global village.
With this kind of connectivity, and with immediacy made possible by mobile devices, anyone who wants to “talk to the world” can do so in seconds by posting online. This is interesting, good in some measure, not so good in others--reason being, it’s not the content of the post but the people posting that matter. They’re the ones who are good in some measure, not so good in others.
Since the 2016 US Presidential election campaign, it seems more people (around the globe not just in the States) are posting regularly about politics, and in particular, often posting about President Donald Trump. This is occurring for many reasons—
- the ease of access of social media,
- increasingly divided politics, ideologically, ethnically, demographically, and otherwise,
- Pres. Trump’s ongoing use of Twitter, and
- the president’s persona—bigger than life, at the center of every issue whether you like him or his views, or not.
All this means more politics in social media.
One of the staples of this growing politicization of social media (Maybe we should just throw in the towel and call it political media?) are shoot-from-the-lip reaction-posts. You don’t like what’s said or happening, so you reach for your device, go online, and let it rip, posting your rant and venting your emotions without filter.
OK, if you want to rant or vent on social media, go ahead, it’s a free country, at least it’s constitutionally supposed to be (The US is experiencing an increase in individual’s or groups’ attempts to limit the First Amendment free speech of others, particularly people or groups with whom they disagree). But the problem with venting or ranting regularly is that after a while few people pay attention, other than those who already share your view. So, you’re mostly preaching to the choir. And though you may not care, you gain the reputation of a malcontent, a curmudgeon, one who “Cries wolf,” or simply an unpleasant associate.
Let me say outright: There are better ways to comment, critique, or criticize than ranting or venting. I’m not saying you shouldn’t speak. I’m saying there is a better way than politically ranting or venting. By “better” I mean more effective, more likely to reach and influence others. Isn’t that the purpose of your rant, to reach others?
With venting, maybe not. Maybe it’s just to blow off your own steam. Either way, social media is inundated with these kinds of posts and even the social media industry is beginning to consider ways to “re-socialize” social media, i.e. reduce one-n-done negative political rants.
As an aside, I’ll add that the other problem with social media posts, specifically those involving “friends,” “fans,” or “followers,” is that your post primarily reaches a subset of these people. Theoretically you can speak to the world via social media but due to complex algorithms that’s not generally how it works. Even the President’s well-known tweets reach only his followers, unless and until media quote his comments. If you want to speak into culture, win friends, and influence others, maybe you should consider launching a blog that’s available to the “world wide” web.
Now, how can we comment, critique, or criticize in an influential manner?
- Check your facts. Nothing undercuts credibility more quickly than false statements—something presidential candidate Hilary Rodham Clinton and Pres. Trump have had to learn in their use of social media. Just take the time to do a little research online. If something bothering or encouraging you is indeed false, why waste time on it? If something with which you agree or disagree is indeed true and happening, then speaking up with a firm foundation of factual data reinforces your point of view.
- Popping off is just popping off. We’re back to ranting and venting. Maybe it helps you feel better, so go ahead, but I recommend tossing your text after it’s written. Don't post popping off. In the pre-social media days, I used to write letters in which I dumped my arguments and feelings about organizational developments that concerned me, but then I destroyed the letters, never sending any of them, ever. Made me feel better but I didn’t spread around hastily-conceived negative thoughts. If I really had something substantive to say, I took the time to develop my argument and shared it with the right people in the right place at a later time.
- Gotcha posts aren’t worth much. Other than giving you a reputation of a self-appointed watchdog with nothing of your own to contribute, gotcha posts are just jabs, more of the same, just one more chance for you to say, "Look what the bad pol has done now." For example, whatever you think of Republican or Democrat posturing or comments, constantly posting the latest perceived faux pas of the other side doesn’t change the narrative. What do you think? If you were a political leader, or in the Oval Office, what would you do? How would you suggest we encourage Middle East peace, or what policies do you support re immigration reform? So it goes. Say something meaningful. Add to the conversation. Add an alternative idea. Gotcha is old news.
- Talk about issues rather than people. Focus your posts and arguments on the issue of the moment instead of adding another round of gossipy criticism of a politician you don’t like. OK, you don’t like him or her, we get that, but what do you think about the issue?
- Respect others and their right to hold their views. Attacking the person(s) holding views different from your own does not advance your argument. It just lets us know you don’t like that man or woman. I’m weary of posts using terms like “moron,” “idiot,” “crazy person” to describe political leaders whose views one does not appreciate. Even if a political leader somehow deserves these appellations, what good does it do to keep labeling him/her this on social media? And do you really want to use this kind of low-level vocabulary in your political discussions?
- Comment and Critique rather than Criticize. Comment is any statement, positive or negative, good or bad. Critique is analysis, which could be critical but may not be and is best based upon studied reflection and review of data. Criticizing or criticism generally implies a negative assessment, which is why the term “constructive criticism” is used to describe an evaluation that attempts to be helpful, no matter the nature of the review. Learning to offer critique that respects others and their right to hold their views, respects the democratic process, and ultimately attempts to resolve a problem is better than criticism per se that offers nothing but cutting disapproval.
- Seriously consider others’ views. Before you post, comment or critique and especially criticism, give a careful look-see at others’ views. Many seemingly either/or issues are not either/or. They’re more complex than this, and frequently there are points of agreement that could further the discussion if acknowledged.
- One side of the partisan aisle is not always right. You may not agree with this, but over time it is easy to document that both Republicans and Democrats, men and women, Liberals and Conservatives, Whites and Blacks, etc. etc. are at times in the wrong. So go slow when you tout loudly the sins of the other. Your turn is coming.
Keep sharing your views, including your comments, critiques, and criticisms, but do so in a way that advances our public conversations about the issues confronting us.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2018
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