Everyone Is Right OR Why I Don’t Debate Politics On Social Media

I bet that surprises you, that I don’t debate politics on social media. Given how outspoken I am about pretty much everything under the sun, it’s possible you presume I doIt might even seem like I do.

I don’t.

What I do is share articles that might express my views or cover something I believe or support. I write pieces that are frank and unvarnished, thereby revealing my opinions. I comment on posts that—in all sorts of ways —”out” my preferences. I’ll even stand up to those who imply I’m a fool for not agreeing with their positions or preferences. Sometimes I just block them, depending on how rude they are.

But I don’t actually debate. I won’t.

Why?

Debating politics on social media is a fool’s errand. In the decade or so in which I’ve been on social media, had a blog, or wrote for journalistic sites like HuffPost and others, experience has taught me the following:

  1. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone. All people. Everywhere.
  2. Everyone is right.
  3. My opinion is less valued/pertinent/correct than theirs.
  4.  They’re convinced they can convince me of their opinion.
  5. If they can’t, they’re convinced they can insult me, with varying degrees of insults, often on my own page, article, or social media thread.
  6. They presume insulting others on my page, article, social media thread is also acceptable behavior.
  7. They presume I haven’t done as much research/thinking/pondering as they have to arrive at their “more correct” opinion.
  8. They demand I defend my stated preference, presuming I am obligated to respond to that demand.
  9. If I don’t (which I won’t), they frame it as “cowardice,” or a lack of supporting rationale for my choice.
  10. Then they dismiss me as clueless, intractable, or locked in an echo chamber.

Sigh. So tiresome.

But no one—not troll, bot, friend, family, or foe—has ever caused me to change my mind about something by virtue of debating me on social media. No one. About anything. Accept maybe the “best donut.” I can go soft there.

The point is, there is no point. I can’t speak for others, but for me, attempting to debate politics—or religion, sex, vaccines, women’s issues, men’s issues, television shows, etc.—is nothing but wasted time, energy, and stress chemicals, none of which I choose to waste or trigger.

Because here’s the thing: I’m a decider. I don’t dwaddle when it comes to making decisions. I’ve learned to trust my gut on issues large and small. I read, watch, ponder, assess, research, talk, listen, learn, and then come to a decision. And, once I do, I’m good to go. You can share your opinion with me if you like, but your opinion is not going to sway mine. The only thing that will sway mine is if my own further research or experience leads to me to be swayed. No offense to you and your research, but it’s possible you and I travel to the beat of a different drum, so I just gotta go my own way (lots of 70s references there, I know).

Someone once asked me, “But don’t you think it’s important to hear other people’s views, so you understand how they think and what causes them to form their opinions? Isn’t it important to be open to listening to others, even those you might not agree with?”

Yes. It’s important. There’s value in it. Just not on social media.

When people are not face-to-face, either in the same room or looking at a shared Go-To-Meeting or Skype screen, they change. At least most people do. When most people are typing at a computer or tapping into a smartphone, they tend to detach from essential aspects of their personalities and decorum, their normal level of good manners, civility, and respect. They get more aggressive, they speak more tersely; they can more readily go to insults, get patronizing and condescending, usually in ways they would not do if you were sitting right across from them in a room. Over a dinner table. Even, likely, speaking on the phone.

Much research has been done on this, the way people act online. I was going to quote a few articles but there were so damn many, I decided to—yes… let you do your own research. Suffice it to say, it’s been scientifically proven that people are meaner online for a whole host of reasons, in most cases, meaner than they would be IRL (online code for “in real life”…see, I learned that!). I will leave this one article here; it’s from a science site and, in its detail, makes the case: Is there a psychological reason for people being mean on the Internet? The answer is: YES.

So, since it’s proven that people tend to be meaner and more hostile and aggressive online, why would I choose to debate controversial, provocative topics in that forum? I wouldn’t. And don’t.

I will “IRL.” And have. Sometimes it’s gotten testy, even heated. Sometimes people storm off or declare “this conversation is over.” And sometimes actual intelligent discourse occurs, and it’s all kind of stimulating and adult when that happens! But that rarely, if ever, happens while debating online.

And, yes, I do know some people actually enjoy social media “fisticuffs.” They get a kick out of taking on a troll, getting down with hardcore opposition, going after people who state idiocies or share ignorance. More power to ’em. That ain’t me. I might do one-or-two rounds for a quick minute, but if the conversation devolves, doesn’t reach detente, or starts spewing like Chernobyl, I’m out. Life is too short and I’d rather watch Netflix.

So, to summarize: if I state an opinion that differs from yours, or share an article that reveals that my lean leans in a different direction than yours… and you think there’s merit in letting me know where you sit on these various things I state or share, feel free. You’re welcome to. As long as you’re civil and respectful, I have no problem with you offering your opinion, choice, preference, or proclivity even in counterpoint to my own. But only do it because you are so moved, we’re colleagues, friends, relatives, etc., and you want me to know where you stand. That’s fine.

Don’t do it with the intent of changing my mind. You won’t. Don’t do it with the idea of belittling or insulting me or my choices. I’ll likely just block you. Don’t do it to try to start a debate. It will never happen… for all the reasons expressed. And certainly don’t do it to pontificate, proselytize, patronize, condescend, man-splain, woman-splain, or otherwise act superior. I can call that Scientology guy back if I want to get into all that.

Now, if we meet for coffee, take a walk on the beach, end up sitting in a room together and those hot topics come up, sure… let’s debate. Kindly. Quietly. With intelligence. And you get the drinks.


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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Why I Hate Online Commenters… Well, SOME Of Them Some Of The Time

Comment

Everyone’s a critic. Everyone’s a better writer. Everyone knows what you should have said, what you said wrong, why you’re an idiot, why they could do better; how stupid you are, what a pointless article you wrote, what shoddy journalism you practice, how you’re like Sean Hannity (yes, I got that one), and why you should just “shut the fuck up and get a life.” Yeah… quotes. Cuz someone actually said that.

Commenters. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live… well, we’ll leave it at that.

The comment feature under every article, every image – in fact, pretty much everything online – was designed to engender interaction, create involvement, and inspire a dialogue. Its hopeful intent was to connect readers with each other and with the writer (or artist of whatever medium) in the spirit of public engagement. It was a good idea and when it works, it can be a powerful forum: great for feedback, lovely for compliments and support; convenient in terms of exchanging interesting ideas, getting new angles on the subject matter, even tangling in hearty debate. When it works.

When it doesn’t, well… the image above is a pretty accurate depiction of how it goes. And, to be honest, that’s how it goes too often. It ain’t pretty and, frankly, I hate that part of my job.

Because, tell me, when did the job description of “writer” come to automatically include the addendum of “punching bag”? I wonder if college professors have created writing courses now to teach “how to endure commenters”? If not, they should.

Where that rare phenomenon of commenting productively happens most is on Facebook. Not hard to figure; most people are there with their real names and faces. If they have access to your posts it’s because you know them, they know you, they requested to become a “friend” because they like your work, or they connected to you via someone else you know. They’re a fairly welcoming bunch and even when it gets feisty, it’s more “friendly fire” than the hardcore volleys experienced elsewhere. And if it does get out of hand – as it is wont to do when you’re a “public figure” and unknown subscribers come aboard – it’s a simple matter of blocking the more heinous participants from the firing line.

Twitter is usually pretty benign, as well. Not quite as intimate as Facebook, but anyone looking at and able to respond to your tweets is there because they chose to “follow” you or someone else who’s following you, so it’s unlikely they’re going to get too aggressive in 140 characters (though it’s been known to happen!).

Where it does get down-dirty ugly? In the comment sections under your articles. Dear God…

It’s as if being given the ability, the permission, to comment on the work of others has unleashed the hounds of hell in some people, given them carte blanche to be incredibly hostile, verbally assaultive, vile, insulting and aggressive in ways that tell me they see this whole commenting thing as an outlet for some deep, personal rage. I’m a pretty tough chick but there are days I feel like I’ve had more poop thrown on me than the mother of a one-year-old.

It doesn’t appear it’s enough for these types of commenters to just say, “I don’t agree with you,” or “I think you missed some things,” or “You made a mistake,” or “I love the Post Office.” No, it goes from reading however much of an article their attention will hold before they’re compelled to spew (which is sometimes just after the headline!) and then it’s a straight shot below the belt, with as much snarling, sneering vituperation as they can muster and still type.

I always wonder, and sometimes actually say, “Why don’t you do the work of researching, writing, editing, fine-tuning and carefully putting together an article; do the work of getting it out to publishers and websites, go through the vetting process to get it accepted and published, and after you’ve done all that, how ’bout I come over there and punch you in the gut, call you names, and castigate you in every way I can manage… how about that?!”

Because that’s pretty much the drill. It appears some people think you’ve traded your humanity for the generic, faceless role of WRITER, a replicant at the mercy of their slings, arrows, pitchforks and… poop.

But here’s the deal: that isn’t part of the bargain. That isn’t the contract between writers and their readers. The real contract?

My part: I write. I’ll always deliver my very best (because that’s how I roll); I’ll research the hell out of what I write but if I make a mistake, let me know and I promise I’ll fix it (and give you credit!). I’ll do my utmost to make sure the copy is correct, the names are spelled right and the facts are accurate. I’ll put in the work to create flow, rhythm, pacing and verbal acuity. I’ll offer depth, background and context, maybe I’ll even make you laugh. And I won’t put it up for publishing until it’s the best possible article I can deliver, for your sake and mine.

Your part? You read, preferably all of an article before you jump. Don’t latch onto a word or phrase and then rush to counter; take the time to take it all in and see, if viewed as a whole, it makes sense. When you’re done, if you have something to say, BE CIVIL. Don’t get personal. Don’t insult me, call me names, condescend, patronize or attempt to make me feel stupid. Say what you have to say, share your ideas, offer your counterpoints, but be intelligent and congenial about it.

THAT’S the contract.

Writers’ pictures are generally affixed so you can see they’re real people. Treat us that way. Be decent, for God’s sake. Because, in most cases, that hard-working writer you’re busy flinging poop at is a decent person too. And there’s just no call for all the mess.

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.