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Why Blasting Trump on Facebook Was a Mistake

I’ve never been a smoker, but going on Facebook recently felt like ripping through a pack or two. It was toxic. Everyone screaming at each other about guns, Muslims, walls, and guerillas, like a game of Cards Against Humanity, but without cards. And while everyone screamed, they plugged up their ears.

A few months earlier I, too, was in the mud pit, slinging away. I earnestly thought I was doing good and making a positive difference, and I surely wasn’t alone in that sense. When someone clicks the shiny blue “Share” button on a video or meme, they assure themselves this will be what it takes to finally enlighten the people who just hadn’t heard this news yet. And they wait for the “Likes” to roll in.

That’s what I did a few months ago. And I’m afraid I was wrong.

Standing Up for Others

Last Winter one of my Facebook activist friends posted a quote from Pastor Martin Niemöller, a German clergyman who opposed Adolph Hitler during his rise to power. Niemöller stated:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Meanwhile, Donald Trump had set the world on fire with sound bytes nobody had ever heard before, or at least not from a serious presidential candidate. It was nearly impossible not to talk about. Trump’s quotes took aim at several minority groups, and everyone wasn’t completely repulsed by him, but in fact some people were all aboard, and I feared others would join. Plus, Niemöller’s quote must have sunk into my system.

So I chose to do something I wouldn’t normally do: I started clicking that shiny “Share” button. On hot-button political issues.

They say you shouldn’t bring up faith and politics at parties, and I think it’s good advice because it’ll kill the mood and nothing will be accomplished. So I’m wondering if the same rule should apply to Facebook. Let’s face it, nobody visits Facebook, eager to see what they can learn. No one says, “I wonder what I can learn from my friends today who have opposing views to mine. I want to make sure I have a balanced understanding of the issue. Oh! Looky there! A two-and-a-half-minute video depicting an opposing viewpoint!”

When I went all-in on the anti-Trump news I got some Likes, and I understood the draw. I repeatedly checked my list of likes, petting it, listening to it purr, because each Like was a pat on the back, or an expression of admiration for my civic intelligence and common sense values. It felt great. But in hindsight it’s become abundantly clear I was simply preaching to the choir. I really don’t think I convinced a single person to not vote for Trump. In fact, I bet I solidified others’ views.

Cut The Facts

Researchers at the University of Michigan in the mid-2000s discovered that when people are presented facts, especially about opposing political beliefs, they not only don’t change their minds, they dig in deeper. A Boston Globe article summarizes:

“… rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs.”

Sometimes I doubt myself unnecessarily and mistake wisdom for cowardice. I think I should speak up for the oppressed when deep down I know it won’t help, but in fact make matters worse. People don’t visit Facebook to solve the world’s problems, they go there to decompress after a long day. I’ve come to miss cat memes and stories about dinners, because the alternative is dangerous.

So I’ve put away my “Share” sword. And I also did something else. Facebook allows for unfollowing people rather than unfriending them. Since some people were just out of control and everything they said or shared was angry, one-sided, and never about their life but about Trump’s and Clinton’s, I went through and unfollowed at least a half dozen friends. Facebook also has a great feature, “Hide This Post,” which also states “see fewer posts like it.” That has seemed to help tremendously.

Like the rest of life, you can control your news feed. If you don’t like what people are saying don’t get into a screaming match over it, just click one of those buttons. Or stop visiting Facebook, I suppose that’s an option, too.