Personal Political Rules: Social Media
As I’ve said before, I’m a woman with strong opinions. That includes political opinions. Much more than I’ve ever shared. After all, my dad is an active, caucus-attending Republican, and one of the reasons my mom became an American citizen was so that she could vote for the leaders who make decisions affecting her life. But when it comes to social media and this blog, I have some unwritten rules that keep many of my political opinions hidden.
I’m not afraid to say who I support or who I plan to vote for, but it’s not the most important thing for me to share. When I participated in the Democratic Primary earlier this year, I shared a few posts in support of Amy Klobuchar. Unfortunately, she didn’t win the nomination. I was disappointed, but I never felt the need to ask if my friends and family had voted for her. What’s more important to me is that those who can vote, do. Whenever I cast a ballot, I post a photo or statement saying that I did, hoping that others will do the same. I’ll even encourage friends and family to do their research. But I strongly believe that we all have the right to make our own choices, especially when casting a ballot.
I will never ridicule, demean, or belittle those whose opinions differ from mine. My family and friends fall on various points of the political spectrum. I often see social media posts in support of people or opinions I don’t agree with. In private, I may shake my head and say, “I just don’t understand,” but I don’t allow it to affect my love or respect for anyone. Some things—many things—are more important than politics. And, although I believe my ideas and opinions are right (would they be mine if I didn’t?), I still acknowledge the possibility that they’re wrong.
And, honestly, I’ve been on the receiving end of ridicule and belittlement. I don’t think my friends and family know that they’ve done this, which is one reason I think we should all be more thoughtful with comments we make. I have seen posts in support of candidates I don’t personally support which include comments like, “Everyone who supports so-and-so is a [fill in the blank],” or “When our candidate wins, those idiots are going to [A, B, or C].” But what of your loved ones who support so-and-so? Is that really how you see them?
I don’t avoid posts or articles that express views different from my own. Hard as it may be to believe, some of my opinions have changed over the years. This is the nature of being human. As we gain experience and learn more about life and the people around us, we change. Often for me this is propelled by my study of the gospel of Jesus Christ and how I choose to apply it in my life. When I open myself up to the perspectives of those who are different from me, I learn more about the world and myself. Of course, I don’t always change my mind based on an article or post I choose to read, but I feel like I come to understand my friends or family better from having read it.
Recently, though, I realized that these simple rules haven’t been enough. After the first Presidential debate of this election season, an article appeared in Utah’s Deseret News, highlighting the problem our society has with contempt and anger. The article called upon everyone to work together to solve this problem. My first reaction? “Yeah, the Democrats and Republicans really are terrible.” As an Unaffiliated voter, this article couldn’t possibly be talking about me. But I felt it was important to take a step back and examine my own online behaviors. What more could I do to help tone down the anger?
The solution I came up with was to be more careful with my “likes.” When someone makes a snarky or sarcastic comment, I often chuckle and hit that heart, or thumbs-up, or laughing emoji. By acknowledging someone’s negativity in such a public way, I’m encouraging it to continue. When my name appears as someone who likes the post, I’m signaling to my family and friends that I endorse it. When I realized that, I committed to myself that I would be more careful with the posts I give my “likes” to. This hasn’t stopped me from “liking” critical posts, but I pay more attention to their tone, message, and language. I still have my weak moments, but I’ve been better.
These rules don’t necessarily apply to in-person interactions. Some of you might have thought that as you read. There are many things I feel passionately about and there are those I’m comfortable sharing those opinions with. But they know me better than a lot of the friends with whom I only interact on social media. Plus, in person, they can better discern my tone and are less likely to read meanings into my words that aren’t actually there. As far as social media is concerned, I’d rather share cat memes and preserve the friendships I hold dear than jeopardize them by saying something I’ll later regret. No politician is worth that.