Many of us will spend a portion of our day reading social media, and checking on friends and family. Some posts and pictures will make us laugh, but many report the outcome of that time of reading tends to move them in another direction – a negative one. If you have a range of “friends” in your social media feed, you will be treated today to some political and cultural articles that are bound to make you wonder about the world in which we live and its future prospects. Here is a short post to suggest how to redeem some of the time spent online.
Positive ways you can gain from even the “negative posts” on social media (even from those bent on pushing your buttons):
Learn which friends need encouragement. The internet can be a great window into what may be hurting people that you care about. Are they afraid the government is heading in the wrong direction? Are they passionate about something that seems like it is slipping away from where they think it should go? Maybe there is an article that balances their fear and could offer them some encouragement. Maybe you can just assure them the sky is not really falling, and there is beauty all around them they aren’t looking at. In any case, without their posts showing you their concerns, you may have missed the opportunity to be the friend they needed.
Learn more about the “other side” of the argument. If you like seeing things from a variety of perspectives, social media posts often provide a means to see that. They raise questions you may not be asking, and allow commenters to offer counter points. If you are a Republican conservative, you can learn the main views of some Democratic liberal thinkers, and vice versa. You don’t have to “weigh in” and disagree, but you can follow the discussion of others and learn from what they are saying why some see the world so differently than you do. It is even possible that you may find they are not evil, but fellow citizens with different presuppositions and solutions. You may find their arguments weak, but you will be better simply for knowing what they are. Dial back the anger and try to listen to what they are saying. It may be nonsense, but you won’t know until you respectfully listen. If you don’t understand something, kindly say: “I come at the issue a different way, and I really want you to share your perspective so I can learn the other side of this. Will you help me by answering —-. Make sure you are clear your query isn’t a trap or point of argumentation; you really just want to understand a different perspective. You may learn counterpoints you simply have never heard, or it may merely confirm they have none to offer.
Track the logical errors offered as arguments. As people share, you will notice all kinds of arguments that aren’t really valid when examined. I have most often found a “guilt by association” argument used in moral outrage posts. The argument goes like this: “His view is wrong because he is best friends with ____.” Because someone shares a platform with another person who is questionable, does not make his view right or wrong on its face. Logical fallacies are abundant in a society that is more moved by presentation than facts. We can learn much from others, but sometimes what we learn is how NOT to frame an argument. In more recent days, I found that some are swayed by “studies” that either don’t exist at all (but get referred to as evidence) or exist in biased propaganda outlets and hold to few conventions that qualify them as “studies” at all. The masses use them to unwittingly form fallacious arguments based on fruit of a fallen tree. Properly used, social media can help us trace areas of common mis-belief and urban mythology.
Let posts spur you to learn the truth as best you can. When people posted repeatedly that our American founders were largely Deists, it didn’t fit with the reading I had done from their own writings on the subject years before. I curiously began digging through the writings of the founders anew and found the evidence for that position severely lacking in primary sources but assumed in many popular writings. I would never have dug into the issue if others hadn’t raised it. I owe them a debt for pressing me into doing a study that I should have done without urging. Many times what we read are arguments that sound convincing, but don’t actually have much support from the primary sources available – and we would do well to check the facts. More often than not, articles could be checked by source and yielded interesting connection to political or moral agendas. Mark Twain once quipped: “We know a lot of stuff that just ain’t so.”
Let the words help direct your feet. Find your area of passion in what really bothers you, enrages you. Even negative emotion is an indicator or something in your heart. Instead of endlessly reading about negative cultural trends and intractable problems, the interactions on social media can offer a door of opportunity to get involved. Are you concerned about human trafficking? Social media posts may offer clues as to what agencies have been created to care for that issue. Tracking them can help you connect with those agencies. If you do, thank the social media posts for marking the trail that pushed you from rage to response.
In the end, social media is a part of modern life. It can be used in unhealthy ways and summarily attacked as something between nuisance and addiction – but it appears to be a phenomenon that will endure for our generation. The quest to use it in the most balanced and positive way may be aided by looking at these and other suggestions.