The Presidential Election and Social Media

These next 59 days are going to be difficult for people who enjoy both social media and politics. I am one of those people who is struggling a little. Even though I have certain political values, I welcome educated discussion and debate. In fact, I enjoy it. That said, I do not want friendships to be compromised because of the arguments that I see online that are centered around political parties, candidates and platforms. It seems as though every political conversation leads to fighting words instead of the exchange of thoughts and differences among intellectual minds.

One night not too long ago, I grew increasingly agitated with some of the comments that I read in my Facebook News Feed. My friends, my very bright and capable friends, were writing updates that were so mean-spirited and close-minded. One friend said that she would not turn on one of the conventions because she was fearful of losing IQ points. I was shocked but realized that it only reflected poorly on her. From my experience, the best way to learn is through listening, gathering as much information as possible and paying attention to all issues surrounding a topic (in this case, the election). I chose NOT to fight fire with fire because I knew that I would be losing battles and that friendships could have also been lost in the battles.

The interactions that I witnessed on Facebook prompted me to write the following update on my Timeline:

“I am trying to refrain from talking about politics on Facebook for the next 68 days. I’m trying not to say much but I’m only human so a slip-up might happen here and there. I do want to say this, though, and be very clear about it. You will never hear me name-call. You will never hear me say that your party/candidate/belief is stupid because I believe that my friends are smart and that you have reasons (and facts) for thinking in the ways that you do. You will never see me act with anything less than grace because I understand that people have opinions that differ from my own. If I like something that you say, I will support you. If you say something that I don’t like, so be it. With that said, I hope that those of us who are interested in politics can enjoy the next 68 history-making days in this great country that we are blessed to call home.”

That is how I truly feel. My Facebook Timeline is not going to be a place for arguments to start and for relationships to end. That is my personal choice and final decision. Come election night, I am sure that I will post an update that politely expresses my happiness or disappointment but, overall, the update will reflect my pride in being an American. As I said in my Facebook update above, if I see something that I like in my News Feed, I will definitely give it a “like” or a brief comment. However, I am refraining from making inflammatory remarks that can affect my relationships with family, friends and business colleagues. The ONLY time that I came out fighting a little bit was when a contact who lives in another country and is not an American citizen very harshly criticized the American government. In that particular case, I replied strongly as an American, not as a member of a particular political party. Whenever and however I support a candidate, it will be with tact, class and kindness. I do feel a little differently about expressing my political thoughts on other social networks (such as Twitter and even Instagram) but I try to do that in moderation. I have to hold back but I really attempt to do it in moderation.

Some people told me that now is NOT the time to be quiet about how I feel about politics. Normally, I would agree but I disagree when it comes to the space of Facebook. I will simply have to agree to disagree with those people. Just because social media is a vehicle to express how we feel, it does not mean that we have to express every single thought on it. I am choosing to hold back when it comes to Facebook.

My offline life is a bit different. I can talk about politics day and night. I am more forthcoming with my opinions if I am engaging in a healthy debate across the dinner table with someone. My family and friends (and even some people beyond my “inner circle”) know how I feel. I am pretty loud and clear about it. I am certainly not keeping silent but I am definitely exercising a bit more caution than others may be on my personal Facebook Timeline. You may have noticed that I placed a very high emphasis in this post on Facebook. The reason for that is simple. I am continuing to use it as a tool and as an experience to build relationships, as the network was originally designed for users to do.

How do you feel about this? Are you using social media as a platform for expressing all of your opinions or are you maintaining the “old school” belief that political thoughts are a private nature? Do your actions fall somewhere in between the two schools of thought? I would love to hear your comments about this as we are getting so close to Election 2012!

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  • http://twitter.com/MHarrisWriter Megan Harris

    Good post, Lauren! I also have trouble with social media and politics. I don’t mind discussions or debates, but it seems like people like to break the rules of etiquette and resort to name-calling.

    I resort to the old school belief that political thoughts are more private, but I’m not going to completely rule out talking about it. Political science was my college major, so I always have a lot to say about it, but I also recognize that there are as many unique opinions about politics as there are people on this earth.

  • http://www.laurenhuston.com Lauren Huston

    Thanks for commenting, Megan! I really like conversation and debate but I don’t like it when things turn mean-spirited. That is not my cup of tea and I don’t want that happening on my Timeline.

    I’m thinking about my grandparents’ era when people didn’t talk about how they were voting or to which political party they belonged. How did they talk about politics at all? Did they? If they didn’t, how did they expand their base of knowledge? I can’t say that what others tell me about “their” candidates will necessarily sway my vote but I definitely like having as much information as possible. How did people get that information in the “olden days?” The news? Radio? Was that it? What influenced the Independents and undecided voters?

    I just asked so many questions. I don’t actually expect you to answer them. I was just sort of typing what was going through my head. :)

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