Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 4:27 am | Mostly Cloudy 51º


John Daly: The Politics of Social Media — and the Perils

Yes, I’ll admit it. I grew up in a time when the Internet didn’t exist. Heck, cell phones didn’t exist either.

While I agree that having them both has made our ways of doing business faster, more efficient and, in many ways, more cost-effective, we’ve all had to suffer from the side effects.

The most disturbing side effects of any online communication have been heightened intolerance, a lack of respect and increased rudeness. This is particularly true during prime-time political season, especially leading up to a presidential election.

I cringe as I read online some of the comments with regard to the Democratic and Republican party debates, the candidates and, most of all, friends attacking friends online over politics in general.

Unfortunately, a divisive presidential contest brings out the worst in many in the online world, often leading to people “unfriending” or “unfollowing” others.

Online acquaintances who reveal their political positions often find themselves punted into the outfield by fly-by-night friends who realize their leanings aren’t in alignment.

Others who use Facebook or Twitter to espouse their political viewpoints are frequently dumped because they constantly shout their beliefs in every corner of social media.

And because social media “friends” aren’t always true friends, or because a friend’s friend can interject his or her viewpoint on a comment string, people’s feeds often can be inundated with information they don’t want to read.

A few years ago, Chicago Tribune reporter Rex W. Huppke interviewed Laurie Zoloth, a professor of medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Zoloth explained that what makes a democracy work is “parrhesia,” or the ability to speak the truth to each other in public as defined by Socrates. People need friends willing to listen to them and the courage to speak and be heard.

She also said that Aristotle defined a friend as someone who is honest with you and imagines you being the best version of who you are. But, so says Zoloth, in a social media realm that becomes difficult to achieve when it is “so easy psychologically to wipe out a friendship.”

Because we separate ourselves in a way in which we don’t have to be face-to-face and don’t have the luxury to adjust according to another person’s body language and voice, the communication is different.

Instead of adjusting to someone with different political beliefs, we can just shut that person down, or become irritated, rude and disrespectful more easily because we don’t have to look the person in the eye.

And, even more disheartening is that family members are becoming “offended” by others in their family because of political differences — to the point that they are refusing to be in the same room with each other!

Is It Possible to Have a Political Discussion on Social Media?

Maybe, if you consider the following when a political discussion heats up.

» First, understand that everyone has an opinion and that yours isn’t always the most valid. Try to listen and respect the opinions of others without feeling like you have to destroy that other person. It’s called respect.

» Be polite. State your opinion in a manner that always encourages a healthy discussion.

» Ask more questions than you provide answers. Honest questions can often lead to more meaningful discussion.

» Be truthful. If you can’t back up your opinions with real facts, don’t make things up. And don’t use hearsay. Just because something was posted on social media doesn’t make it the truth. After all, isn’t it more important to know what’s real and what isn’t?

» Try to understand the other person’s viewpoint. It shouldn’t be all about winning. Try to find common ground and understanding.

» Don’t resort to wisecracks, personal attacks, name calling or profanity. As I’ve repeated in so many places and so many times, social media is not private. Once out there, your words can come back to kick you in the pants, in the worst way. Remember: a prospective employer or relationship might hold your words against you.

» Know that when you are wrong, or you’ve been unkind, admit it. Thank the other person for enlightening you. It takes a much bigger person to admit fault than it does to come out on top a winner ... just because it feels good!

» And finally, the No. 1 thing to remember: Avoid these discussions all together! If they escalate or get out of hand, everyone loses.

John Daly is the founder and president of The Key Class, the keys to life skills success. Click to learn more about The Key Class, or click here to buy his book. John’s new book, 74 Key Life Skills for a Happy, Successful Life, is currently available in digital format on Amazon. Connect with The Key Class on Facebook and follow John on Twitter @johnjdalyjr. Do you have a question about business or social etiquette? Ask John at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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