The world of social media feels a bit hot right now. There is a lot of simmering and boiling going on! When I log in online or talk with people in real life – many are feeling overwhelmed by the hate, trolls, and just plain meanness that is evident on social media. People are talking past each other or at each other rather than conversing with each other with respect.
Personally I’ve made a good number of mistakes in digital communication over the years. Emails that I regret. Blog posts I shouldn’t have posted. Comments I should have withheld.
But I’m learning. And I’m working to still be engaged in discussions while becoming a better person to converse with about ideas and issues.
Below are my top 10 tips for social media discussions:
1. Work to become a more calm and peaceful person in real life.
I recommend thinking through strategies to reduce the stress and tension in your life offline. Take a walk. Listen to some music that calms you. Sit calmly in nature. Savor a cup of coffee or tea. Pray. If you are overwhelmed with stress in your physical life – you’ll probably import that into your digital life as well.
2. Read the entire shared link before commenting on the shared link.
We only have so many hours in a day. Often reading through entire articles or posts feels too time-consuming. But there truly is a lot of fake news in the world and there are people profiting off of you and me in our ignorance and laziness. Sometimes the title of the link is “click bait” or intended to trick you into reacting before you read the content. Sometimes the source is boldly peddling lies. Do your homework before you react.
3. Pray for the people you disagree with.
I’m a Christian and so prayer is a regular part of my life. I hope it is for you as well. I find it very helpful when I become engaged in a tough and tense discussion online to sit back and pray for the person I’m dialoguing with. It really helps to improve my perspective! When I was getting married ten years ago – a friend advised me to take time to pray for my wife when we argued. Wow – that really helps. It helps me turn my perspective around to continue to value the person even through the discussion.
4. Don’t engage in intense discussions while on your phone – use a device with a larger screen and keyboard.
The small size of a phone does not lend itself to deep and thoughtful discussions. It is much more difficult to do research on a tiny screen and no keyboard. It is more difficult to edit your thoughts. I use my phone for simple “liking” of things or enjoying creative works. But if I’m going to engage in deep discussion I stay off my phone and use my laptop or a desktop computer (or even a tablet with a large screen and keyboard).
5. Assume the best about the person.
If you think someone is attacking you – work to assume the best about them. Is it possible they were being sarcastic? Does what they are saying mean something different in the religion or culture they are coming from? Could it be their heart didn’t translate well onto the screen? Maybe their words are intended to offend – but I’ve found that often I just misunderstood the tone or words and I can deescalate the situation by assuming the best about them.
6. Read their page to see where they are coming from and why they posted their thoughts.
If someone posts something offensive on my page or one of the sites I manage – I try to take some time to visit their page and understand them. I read through what they’ve posted in other places and try to get to know them before responding. If I’m able to understand who they are – I can make sure to connect with them and their cultural or philosophical convictions. If I can “speak their language” it helps to calm the situation and allows us to connect better.
7. Don’t use offensive labels when describing people.
When we exist in our little cultural bubbles it becomes easy to refer to others with offensive and derogatory labels. Of course racist labels are wrong. But have you thought about the labels you use to describe those in opposing political parties? Religious groups? People in different socio-economic categories? Using those “insider” terms often is just demeaning and riles up people with views different from your own. Instead of a derogatory term – try using the word “neighbor”, “friend”, or “brother” or “sister” while discussing important and controversial issues.
8. Don’t say it online if you couldn’t say it to their face.
It is so easy to think vile thoughts of a person or attack them from a distance. The anonymity of the internet is great in some circumstances, but often is allows the darkest parts of our minds to spill out onto the screen. But imagine your words being said straight to their face. Would you still say that comment? Or would you be gentler, kinder, and less antagonistic?
9. Ask a trusted friend what they think about your online words.
You might have a very offensive presence online and you don’t even realize it. It is helpful to hear from a respected and wise friend (not just someone who agrees with your posts or discussions) on how you are coming across online. Bonus points if they have grey hair. Ask them to critique a few posts and give advice on ways you could say things in a kinder and more gracious manner.
10. Say sorry.
We do not say sorry enough in life. I have to keep learning this lesson. But instead of holding onto your pride – just apologize if you make a mistake. It is hard for me to think of any time in my life when I regretted apologizing for something I did or said that was wrong. Just do it.
Those are my recommendations! I hope you can make good use of them.
Do you have any of your own you’d like to share?
Photo credit: Mandee Campos