Facebook Politics

After acting like a digital jerk a few too many times I think I've learned the hard way that it's not always the best idea to attack people for their political views on Facebook (FB). Especially when it's the friend of a friend — for all you know it's their cousin or best friend from college — and the discussion becomes too heated. I'm not saying that it's not okay to express one's political views or defend your own views, but it's too easy for political discussions on social networking site to lapse into personal attacks or lazy, pejorative statements.

I took a mini-poll of my friends earlier this year to see what they thought the rules were when discussing politics on Facebook. A hometown, family friend jokingly responded, “Don't talk about gay marriage.” She and I (along with my husband and a gay friend) participated in a week long FB argument about gay marriage following its legalizaion by the Iowa Supreme Court. At times it was civil, but sometimes we stopped listening and relapsed into “liberals always, blah, blah, blah,” and “It's just so bigoted to think....yadda, yadda, yadda.” Basically, it's what happens when people stop being respectful, forget that the person they're talking to is a human being with feelings and a brain, and fall back on some oft repeated stereotype.

So, I think it might be nice to compile a list of FB discussion guidelines when it comes to political threads. I've started it with basic rules, but please add your own rules in the comment section.

1) Remember that the other person deserves respect. You will never get them to see your side or even think about your point of view if you go on the attack (should be obvious, but somehow it isn't always).

2) Everything (political) is on the table, but keep it civil. (tip from my High School friend Gina)

3) Look at statistics and facts and make up your own mind instead of just repeating what others say. (tip from childhood friend Patti)

4) If someone really pisses you off, give yourself time to cool down before you respond. Perhaps instead of attacking them in kind, call out their uncivil behavior and then continue to be civil yourself.

5) Avoid pejorative statements [i.e. Liberals have no sense of humor, Republicans are bigots, San Francisco is (fill in the blank), People in the South are (fill in the blank)].

6) Fact check! C'mon people!! If you're forwarded something and it doesn't come from a credible source or sounds vaguely outrageous please go to http://www.factcheck.org/.

7) If you're the person “hosting” the discussion it's not a bad idea to remind your friends to be civil if you sense the potential for things to get nasty.

8) Remember Godwin's Law. The longer a discussion goes the more likely it is that someone will mention Hitler or the Nazis. Whenever that happens the thread should end. Also, as Jon Stewart has pointed out...NOTHING COMPARES TO THE NAZIS.