Here’s the disease
You do a quick morning check of Facebook. There’s a post about gun control. You comment, “What she said!”
You check back at lunch. There are 53 notifications. The gun feed has exploded, so to speak. It began as a civil debate. Now, people are ALL-CAPPING at one another. By 2 p.m. you unsubscribe from the feed. Your friend of the original post makes the following announcement.
“I can’t bear all the hate! I’m signing off for a while. Maybe forever. Bye, FB.”
Heading into an election year, we need a FB cure.
First a detour into social science.
(Note: I’m about to mention anti-vaxxers. It’s just as an *example.* So take your finger off the comment button.)
Last spring a study came out about the effectiveness of public health messages. The social scientists assembled a population of parents with anti-vaccine opinions, those who believe the MMR vaccine is harmful.
They exposed these parents to lots of information about the vaccine’s safety record.
Here’s what they found (link below):
- The parents in the study changed their opinions about the vaccine’s safety.
- After exposure to the information, they were more likely to view the vaccine as safe.
- However, the parents said they were even less likely to vaccinate their children in the future.
That’s right. Giving a person solid, scientific information a belief they hold is wrong makes them more of a stubborn dumbass than when you started.
The researchers say it has to do with self-esteem. When you are confronted with information that persuasively contradicts a deeply held opinion, you accept on one level it may be true. But that makes you feel bad. So you fight back against the information with more vigor than before you heard it.
I hear some folks saying, “Study-schmuddy.”
Yet this one really passes the sniff test. I mean seriously, when was the last time you convinced anyone of anything?
Those shoes are really cute you should buy them, doesn’t count.
Implication for FB
Post away, but know you are not changing anyone’s mind with your facts about vaccines, climate change, immigration, taxes, gun rights, Keystone pipeline, sugar, John Boehner, Bibi Netanyahu, Monsanto, banking regulation, free-trade coffee, Central Park carriage horses, net neutrality, snow, interest rates, Obama or too-long TSA lines.
You are actually having the opposite effect from what you intend.
Now for the Cure!
Preaching to the Choir Emoji
When posting something on a polarizing topic, use this emoji. It acknowledges you can’t change anyone’s mind, but want to express your opinion. So, in essence, you are preaching to the choir. Only other choir members need respond.
Put it in as your first comment.
How do you know if you’re talking about a polarizing topic? That’s pretty much anything Fox News is yelling about.
There! See how I did that? Right after my snarky Fox News comment.
What if I don’t want to be preaching to the choir? What if I’m trying to convince people?
You’re not. See above. Move on.
I’m Just Angry Emoji
What if you can’t help yourself? Someone has posted something and you just must express what you think, even though you know you and the poster have a red-state-blue-state relationship. You could use this emoji with your comments.
It’s the inverse of the nuns. It lets the poster know you just needed to vent, no further response required or desired.
We’re All in This Together
“You can be right, or you can be married. Pick one.”
It’s great advice for relationships. If you want to preserve a connection to another person, being “right,” however well supported by the facts, is not the point.
Proving you’re right is often destructive to a relationship– with a whole lot more collateral damage. (Government shutdown)
See! I did it again.
What if You Need to Convince Someone?
Some of these topics are really important. I mean unless we all just accept a measles pandemic.
History teaches us there are two ways minds get changed.
The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but the bending is not pain-free. More like the breaking and resetting of a bone to achieve that bend than the flexing of a supple bamboo stalk.
In some cases, people’s opinions do shift, but it happens over a long period of time. Marriage equality is an example.
It’s a slow wearing-away of one point of view in favor of another, until the landscape is finally changed.
Facebook raging contributes to #1 (Violence)—people get more and more polarized until, in some cases, there is a painful explosion. After all explosions, there’s the possibility—not guarantee— of healing and change (Ferguson, MO).
We could use more of #2 (Erosion).
I’m rooting for the songster nuns to help.