Why You’ll (Probably) Never Catch Me Talking Politics Or Religion On Social Media

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Monica: John, It’s late. Go to sleep.
Me: [Furiously pounding keyboard.] I can’t! Somebody is wrong on the internet! 

Gun rights. Abortion. Immigration. Race. Gender. Trump. Putin. Trump and Putin- together! 

I have opinions on all that stuff. Opinions that I hope are informed, educated, and articulate. I love dialoguing and discussing the important issues of the day. Here’s the thing, I definitely prefer doing it in person- where attention spans are longer, there is no character limit, I can read body language, hear tone and inflection, and look people in the eye. 

There is definitely a downside to social media that I have zero interest in. I love embodied conversation- not screeds mediated by screens. I love relationships- not rants made up of ones and zeros.

Social media, by its very nature, severely limits or obliterates the most vital elements of conversing. That’s why I’m only on social media to keep up with friends, family, and former students- and the cat videos. I’m here for the memories and the memes.  

There’s something deeper though. When I see posts on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, et al drift into the political and the religious, it seems like it is all heat and no light. I wonder how much of it leads to any real learning or growth. Genuinely curious- has any comment on social media ever really changed your mind on an issue? 

There are obviously other uses for social media besides arguing politics. Despite not being “a joiner” and being very skeptical of social media, I dove in about a month ago. I have been delighted by the real relationship possibilities provided by social media! Family members who are hundreds of miles away feel closer. I have caught up with high school friends that I haven’t talked to in over two decades. As far as former students go, class is still in session! I love your questions! Dear friends in far flung places like Canada, Romania and Latvia don’t feel so far away any more. I feel genuinely closer to the people who I care about. Thanks social media! 

But there is a definite dark side to social media. Let’s be honest, most of the time on social media, we aren’t looking to exchange ideas about these hot button critical issues. I’m suspicious we are doing something else entirely, something tribal. 

Our posts function as declarations that we have the right thoughts and values to fit into the right Tribe. Our comments announce that we can identify those that belong outside the Tribe. (And we do it with such bold certainty! Just once I’d love to read a comment where someone says, “I’m actually not sure what I think about X, I need to read up on it...") 

In other words, we are not really trying to engage other people empathetically, exchange ideas, and evolve. We are not, -in good faith- participating in dialogues that equip us to adjust our perspectives and refine our opinions so that we become well-rounded and balanced people. 

Nobody is changing anybody's mind out there. We are only convincing the already convinced. And ourselves. 

C’mon, you’ve seen it- when it comes to the hot topics, nobody is trying to learn. Nobody has time for nuance or context. People can’t be bothered by the facts because it’s really about their faction. Tribal solidarity is what we are signaling.  

Social media is a tool. If there is a problem, it doesn’t lie with social media but lies within us. We can use digital platforms to rant and rave. We can also use social media to connect, empathize, learn, and grow. And share cat videos. 

John Daum
Relationship Educator, First Things First
john@firstthings.org




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