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Surviving the elections on Facebook

Posted by Robin Abrahams  October 30, 2012 03:54 PM

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One more week. 

Have you defriended anyone on Facebook yet, this election season? Been defriended yourself? Hidden certain people's newsfeeds? How are you surviving the election season on Facebook? 

I'll be on WGBH radio (89.7 FM) next Monday afternoon to talk about the social mores and psychology of Facebook and politics. What are your stories, advice, and questions? Let's hear 'em! And in the meantime ...

Miss Conduct's 7 Tips for Mixing Politics and Social Media: 

1. The internet is real life. Insulting another person, and/or making a jackass of yourself online, is the same thing as doing it in "real life." For adults, this is less of a problem on Facebook than in anonymous forums, but appalling behavior still occurs. 

Do I write this expecting the trolls, "devil's advocates", creep photographers, and self-exploiters to suddenly realize the error of their ways? No, I write this to give the rest of you explicit permission to ban, mock, and judge them, to whatever extent you may without behaving like a jackass yourself. (Also to explain, as an editorial matter, why I say "in-person" rather than "real life" to refer to live rather than mediated communication.) 

When our cavedwelling ancestors first developed speech, I'm sure there were those who employed it most enthusiastically to insult their fellows and then declaim, "Why Og mad? Talk not real. Not like Ook-Ook hit Og with club." What a pity Ook-Ook's genes got passed down as well. 

2. Preach to the choir. Political posts on Facebook do not change people's minds. They are good for sharing outrage, witticisms, and outlets for action with your own kind. Assume as much as possible, too, that those with whom you disagree are posting in the same spirit, not trying to provoke a fight with you. 

3. Vary the menu. Politics, politics, politics all the time is a good way to get your feed hidden. So, too, is posting nothing but pictures of your cat. Your newsfeed is like a little Cahier de Vous. Keep the editorial content varied between personal updates and links to news or blog items, funny and serious, idiosyncratic and general interest. You might not change someone's mind about politics, but you can always remind them of the humanity of the other side. As long as you act human, that is, and not like a political spambot. 

4. Develop a policy about responding. What do you do when someone posts an update or a link to an article that is offensive, against your beliefs, or just plain inaccurate? Unfriend them? Offer rebuttals in comments? Message them privately? Hide the update? Use it to educate yourself about the other side? 

It doesn't matter what you do, but having a general policy on how to handle such irritants saves mental and emotional energy. My own policy is never to comment on a post I disagree with. If I find a post upsetting, I'll hide it, and if there is a continual stream of such posts from someone I'm not related to, I'll unfriend them. This works for me to keep Facebook fun, which is what I want from it. And I don't have to decide each time if a given issue is REALLY important enough to argue about or not. 

5. Your Facebook Wall is your living room. Like a party host, you set the tone. You can decide that you don't want profanity or harsh language used. If your friends are debating, you enforce standards of civility. You can cut off argument entirely, if you want to. Not by saying, "I'm right, so shut up," but by saying, "Not here, not now." My friends who disagree with me on politics or religion know that I'm happy to message, or talk in person, about our differences. But I don't like to have those discussions in public, as it were. 

6. Defriending on Facebook /= rest-of-life breakup. If you have a family member or in-law (or anyone else, but this tends to only happen with family) who is making Facebook not fun for you, defriend. The term "defriend" is unfortunately global and apocalyptic, when all you are really doing is ending an activity that you and a friend engage in. 

7. Use FB to head off in-person conflicts. It's sometimes said that a gentleman or lady never insults another person unintentionally. Anyone who is in a political minority in their neighborhood or workplace has had the uncomfortable experience of being insulted unintentionally by someone who simply didn't know that One of Them was in the room. It's much nicer to discover that someone "Likes" the wrong party by seeing it pop up on a screen than by seeing their face turn purple when you casually say that anyone who votes for Wrong Party must have a cortex as free of wrinkles as Nicole Kidman's brow. 

What advice and stories do you have, readers? (And if your friends, co-workers, and relatives are impossible year-round and in-person, not just online during elections, write Miss Conduct! And "like" my page on Facebook. No politics there!)
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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