Politics and Social Media

 In education

My Dad’s a Republican who lives in Texas.

I’m a Democrat who lives in Vancouver, Canada.

When I used to go home for holidays, we never talked politics. Fox News would play in the background of the family room while I surreptitiously trolled through BBC online on my laptop.

Facebook, however, has sometimes exposed these unspoken differences.

“I disagree,” read one of his FB comments. It appeared on a post supporting the recent decision to uphold gay marriage nationwide. “I agree,” I typed in, contradicting.

Facebook is just one form of social media in which divergent opinions between groups of people may become unexpectedly explicit. And not just between family members, but between friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.

“I never knew she had such strong feelings about taxes!” a friend confided to me in chagrin, after an exchange online grew heated. Whether it’s about vaccinations, veganism, politics, or charities, sometimes a well-placed prompt can incite a litany of inflamed discourse.

“Discussion with non-like-minded people and exposure to diverse viewpoints is linked not only to facilitating the deliberative process and enhancing the quality of opinions but it is also closely linked to active citizenship by allowing individuals to express their view points and become accustomed to encountering dissimilar opinions.” – Hsu, S. et al (2013)

Like usually attracts like, and “people selectively seek out information congruent with their own disposition and beliefs” (Hsu, S. et al, 2013). On social media, we tend to cluster with those who validate our point of view. However, given the wide net of social media (which can encompass friends, family, and peers), sometimes a surprise slips through the gaps. It’s not rare to be startled out of a Facebook surfing reverie by a dislocating remark. While I may not agree with the opinions that I see expressed, I’ve started to pause in my the discomfort. Can I hear that point of view?

Sometimes there’s no compromise. “Let’s agree to disagree,” as my dad might say. But other times the comments have allowed me to see a bridge to another side of things – even if it’s just a glimpse. While I may decide to come back to my own shore, it’s illuminating to have traveled. My F2F interactions with my Dad have shifted.  I ask him questions occasionally about his politics – not to prove him wrong, but to actually listen to his concerns and his thoughts.

Being “right” will never win us friends –  or arguments. An unexpected gift of social media’s reach is that it may provide us with a bit more of the exposure and empathy that we need to bridge our divides.

And have peaceful Thanksgiving dinners at home.

References

Hsu, S., Kim, Y. & Zuniga, H. (2013). Influence of social media use on discussion network heterogeneity and civic engagement: The moderating role of personality traits. Journal of Communication (63), 498-516. DOI: 10.1111/jcom.12034

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