Ask Miriam | Getting Involved in Facebook Arguments


Dear Miriam,

I’m seeing more and more Facebook arguments between people who are closely aligned politically trying to take each other down because of relatively minor disagreements. With so many real problems and huge gulfs between beliefs, I’m frustrated by people creating conflicts with people who should be their allies. Then again, I’m not sure inserting myself into these arguments does anything to improve the situation. What do you think?


Trying to stay civil

Dear Civil,

I’ve weighed in about Facebook discussions a few times in the past, including most recently about whether or not to comment on posts from people you don’t really know. Back in 2015, I also wrote about how to best do politics on Facebook, but 2015 was no 2018 (or 2017, or 2016 — come to think of it, 2015 may have been the sweet spot for commenting about politics online!)

Maybe you’ll go back and read these posts, but more likely not; instead, linking to them is a way to affirm 1) this stinks, 2) you’re not alone in thinking this stinks and 3) I try to have creative answers even when the questions are similar. Also, as long as I’m being all self-referential, it’s worth noting that despite these (and many more) questions about Facebook, I’ve never had a single question about Twitter, Instagram or other social media platforms, so I guess my audience and I are pretty simpatico. (I don’t understand Twitter, and I’m accepting that maybe I never will.)

Yeah, I’m stalling. Because here’s the thing — the depth of disagreements between certain factions right now is so astronomical as to be irreconcilable. I’m not happy about that either, but I do see it and believe it. However, within smaller circles, the promise of a meeting of the minds still exists. You might have different political priorities than I do, but we both believe in health care and human rights. Maybe, through some super-effective Facebooking, I can convince you that my progressive candidate will do these things better than yours. Maybe we can become even better allies by endlessly teasing out the points where we differ.

Maybe. There is so much pent-up frustration and fear out there that we’re all losing our abilities to be civil and rational and patient, and I take that we seriously, because I am totally in this. The desire to win some argument, any argument, has taken precedence over the better parts of our collective selves. This political reality combined with the already fraught world of online comments is a recipe for hurt feelings and, frankly, wasted time.

There are organizations out there doing a lot of good right now in the face of tremendous hurdles. Perhaps you could focus your attention on organizing with them, through social media campaigns or other platform. You could even do some research and recommend ways for other people to get involved in making a difference in real life and taking their passions away from the screen and into the world.

You can comment on these posts if you think there is a tangible and achievable outcome you could catalyze. If you enjoy the spirit of debate, go ahead, too, but it sounds like you don’t.

So, if you’re just frustrated by the minutiae of disagreements, acknowledge the difficulty of our current environment and move on. It’s an imperfect solution for our imperfect world.

Be well,




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