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Avoiding Political and Religious Arguments on Facebook

Posted: Tue Nov 24, 2015 5:20 pm
by musicmonkey
I have some friends on Facebook who are very transparent with their opinions and it usually results in an argument. I rarely get involved. I have a preacher friend who gets a lot of atheists commenting rather negatively on his posts. My cousin was going through marital problems and used Facebook like a personal diary and public outpouring of her heart. It was like watching a trainwreck in slow motion.

We all use Facebook differently. Some people still don't know the difference between a private message and a timeline/wall post. Some of us love to shout from our soap box. I have a very technically skilled friend who never posts or comments on anything on Facebook but lurks regularly. He prefers to observe from a distance rather than be an active participant. Then there's those selfie-loving people who need constant affirmation that they look good in their latest iPhone self-portrait. Of course there's the new parent who thinks all their "friends" need to see 20 pictures daily of their baby. Oh, and those Facebook gamers constantly asking you to help them out or those "If you love Jesus, repost this" guilt-ridden chain-letter garbage. It sort of all becomes noise to me.

Facebook's algorithms will display popular posts higher up on the Newsfeed and this can result in hot topics going even more viral among your friend circles. Quite often, the popular posts are the ones with an argument. So if we want to be engaged with our friends but don't like arguing, how can we avoid arguments on Facebook?

In 10 Ways to Avoid Facebook Drama, Relevant Magazine suggests the following:

1. Set criteria for what you post.
2. Never post or comment when you are angry.
3. Resist the urge to post something for everyone to read that is really intended for just one person to see.
4. Utilize the unsubscribe feature.
5. It’s Not Always About You.
6. Learn to be happy for other people.
7. Forgive people who have offended you.
8. Stop trying to convince people that you are happy; just go be happy.
9. Use your Facebook account to encourage others.
10. Exercise wisdom in what friend requests you accept.

I rarely post anything too personal. It's usually a lyric from a song, a music video, a job update, etc. I've learned to keep things light. One of the beauties of posting lyrics or even quotes from a movie or TV show is that it's not you saying it, you're just quoting someone else.

In How to Avoid Political Arguments on Facebook, the author suggests creating and using Facebook lists. He says, "The key is to take advantage of an old Facebook feature: the Friends list. I created one called Politics and populated it with like-minded friends with whom I did want to share political stuff. Then, when I wanted to post something political, I specified that it should be seen only by that list."

I've got nearly 600 "friends" on Facebook. Some are old friends I have little or nothing in common with anymore; some are colleagues and business-related contacts; some are relatives (I'll get to that later); some are people I've maybe only met once or twice; some are actual businesses; some are friends of friends; and only a few are in my close inner circle.

I've been using Facebook lists for years and although they've buried custom list management in recent years in favor of more automated lists like Close Friends, Acquaintances, City and Workplace, it's still a valuable tool worth exploring.

My main lists are: Clients/Colleagues, Relatives, and Public Figures/Businesses/Organizations. Now let me get to the relatives. All my uncles, aunts, cousins and their children are "Christian". I put Christian in quotes because while they all go to church and espouse the values of Christ, I find them to be one of the most likely groups to engage in controversial Facebook behaviour and they might get offended if I or my friends drop an f-bomb on my Facebook page. Likewise, my uber liberal friends would be the most likely to get upset about overt religion or conservative politics. It's a conundrum for sure.

For example, here in Canada, after almost ten years of Stephen Harper's conservative leadership we have a new liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The extreme left has always demonized Harper. I don't love the guy, particularly for his cuts to arts and culture, but he was a good bean counter. I have many Facebook friends who are heavily involved in arts and culture and for them, Harper was diablo. On the flipside, I have some politically conservative friends who think Justin Trudeau's inexperience will be devastating to the economy. In face to face conversations I will play Devil's advocate to both my liberal and conservative friends, but rarely do that in the wildwest of unfiltered Facebook.

So I experimented a bit with this a few years ago. I created a new list for a few hand-picked relatives that I felt might be able to tolerate an occasional f-bomb or some good old aggro 90s music, etc. My cousin's children are all growing up, going to college and starting to get married. I've added a few of them as my Facebook friends although we don't get together in person and don't really know each other. One of them, a music lover like myself, unfriended me soon after. It was sudden and without explanation.

Unfriending hurts. I know it's the easy route to the one doing the unfriending, but it doesn't really resolve anything. I'd much prefer a direct message telling me that my posts aren't appropriate so at least I have the opportunity to respond. I'm all about dialogue. I guess to my religious relatives, I'm the black sheep, the single city slicker, the one to pray for, the one who did or didn't (depending on how you see it) drink the Kool-Aid. In his defense, however, maybe he felt I was a bad influence on him. In many suburban Christian communities, they're taught to only listen to "Christian music" and have Christian friends, etc. They take "be in the world but not of the world" to a literal extreme and have little to no contact with people outside of their safe, controlled, like-minded, sterile environments lest anything should threaten to make them question their fragile, fabricated world. But I digress.

Anyway, I'd suggest using lists and experimenting a bit with them. I'd like to be a bit more open on Facebook about my opinions and beliefs myself but I'd have to create some new lists. I think many people I've offended have probably blocked me from their Newsfeed already back when Facebook was really pushing the "show less of this person" on Newsfeeds. C'est la vie!

In summary, liberal politics tends to offend hardcore conservatives while religion and conservative politics tends to offend hardcore liberals. I think most people are either moderate liberals or moderate conservatives so it's only a small majority on either extreme that have the loudest negative reactions. It only takes one person to say something offense or inappropriate to start an argument. A wise man I respect once said to me, "If you're pissing off the extreme left wing and extreme right wing simultaneously, you're exactly where God wants you to be".

For political stuff I'd suggest you start off with two custom lists: "Hardcore Liberals" and "Hardcore Conservatives". Don't include your moderate friends in these lists unless they start arguments with you or your friends. It's important to remember that while you may get along well with friend "A" who is more liberal than you, and you may get a long with friend "B" who is more conservative than you, "A" and "B" might not get along at all. Some of it is ideology but some of it is personality, temperament and maturity. Remember, too, that from the comforts of one's home, after a long day at work and a few beers, manners and judgment are usually the first things to go. Experiment a little.

UPDATE: So after writing this, I spent some time looking at my Facebook lists, created a few new ones, added or removed a few people from various lists, and took a closer look at some of my friend's posts. It's amazing what you do *not* see on your Newsfeed. You may have close friends that don't post often so their posts get drowned out by your less close friends who post nonstop. I have a few friends that I'm trying to get to know better and have added them to my Close Friends list so that their posts appear more often. Both Facebook and Google and other social media do so much automatic filtering that it's become scary. Google only shows you things that are aligned with what you already believe or want to see. This can be helpful to a degree but terrifying also if you aren't being exposed to various viewpoints. After you create some lists, view your List Feed (posts on your Newsfeed only from those people). You might discover a bunch of things that were previously drowned out in your overall Newsfeed.

Let's discuss. Share your tips and experiences.

Re: Avoiding Political and Religious Arguments on Facebook

Posted: Fri Jan 08, 2016 9:26 pm
by musicmonkey
Here's a bit of an update. I've got around 600 Facebook friends and know that at least 100 of them are Christians. I've started posting some more overtly religious things to Facebook but only show it to my Christian list because I know quite a few atheists who will unfriend anyone instantly for posting that type of stuff and I don't want to be "that guy". Not out of fear of losing a friend, but rather out of respect for where they are at. Facebook is not my pulpit nor my diary.

Having said that, one of my Christian cousins recently unfriended me for no reason and I soon discovered that she also unfriended my brother, her own brother and his wife. My typical response to that is that I feel hurt and angry. I had a chat with someone about this today and he said we have to have grace in our hearts to allow others we love to go through their own valleys without it offending us.

He went on to say, "We are all destined to be refined by God's fire. When a person isn't in a place where they can accept friendship and compassion I think we are obliged to leave them be. Let God do his thing. We are all messed up spiritually ... Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt ... I am comfortable with not having all the answers ... I posit that no one is 100% correct about the things they believe about God. Thus no one has this religious thing nailed down, no matter what they think. And that's why God has to be saving all of us in spite of our religion, not because of it."

Letting God do his thing is a big one for me. I know we're all messed up, it just hurts when your own extended Christian family, for whatever reason, unfriends you. I think for some Christians, they are so broken and insecure in their own faith that anyone who "rocks their boat" is deemed to perhaps "cause them to stumble". Many Christians are still Asleep in the Light. The Church has more patients than wounded healers. But I digress.

I certainly don't want to cause anyone to stumble but I want to rock everyone's boat! I want to get people to think about deeper things, to question, to talk more openly about their fears and doubts. If I can p*ss off militant atheists and conservative Christians simultaneously, then I think I'm exactly where God wants me to be. But I don't want to p*ss off anyone on Facebook. For me, Facebook is to gently provoke a dialogue and make people think about deeper things from the songs and lyrics I post.