The 2016 Election: How to Lose Friends and Not Influence People on Facebook

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You want to lose some friends? Just let it all hang out politically on Facebook. Tell us what you REALLY think. We’re dying to hear.

We are fast approaching the third presidential election since Facebook became a massive instrument of interpersonal communication and many people have STILL not grasped the basic rules of engagement for political commentary. This core rule is that most of your friends don’t really care what you think about politics and some actively hate you for your postings.

I say that as someone who has worked on political campaigns, had political jobs in Washington, and routinely develops many uniquely interesting opinions and observations on the political scene. (And if you don’t believe that I have interesting political opinions, ask my wife.) I once dreamed of writing a political column and would love nothing more than to shoot off my mouth on Facebook every time I have a stray thought about the President, the Speaker of the House, the Chief Justice and the major party candidates. But I try to restrain myself, especially since hardly any of my “friends” share my political inclinations.

Unfortunately I can’t say that I always follow my own best judgment.  Sometimes I just can’t help myself and react hastily. But usually I think twice and remember that if I’m annoyed at seeing posts that I disagree with, many of my friends are apt to be annoyed by mine.

Here, then, are some guidelines for posting during the political season.

  • For the love of all that is holy, don’t post too frequently. I want to find a gun and shoot a hole in my computer whenever people with whom I disagree post more than once a week (although oddly I enjoy seeing frequent posts from people I agree with).   There’s a “significant other” in our family who shares political posts FIVE or more times a day! Everyone dreads getting a friend request from that person. Don’t be that person.
  • And for God’s sake, don’t always be sharing those pre-packaged slides with someone else’s political observations gussied up with background photos of Martin Luther King or Ronald Reagan. Do you want us to think you have no thoughts of your own?
  • Don’t be nasty and snide. You may think you’re clever but if you’re saying something directly negative about a political figure, the people who like him or her will not thank you for your witticism. Hard feelings linger too. There are still people I haven’t really forgiven for their nasty Facebook posts from the LAST presidential election.
  • Try to be original. Not as easy as it sounds. If you were as insightful as you think you are, you’d already have your own New York Times op-ed column by now.   But at the very least try not to repeat the most banal and obvious comment.
  • Try to be positive. You are much less likely to offend if you say something nice about your favorite candidate than if you crap all over someone else’s. Of course this opens you up to zingers from your brutish “friends” or, worse, your friends’ friends – those swine you’ve never even met but feel free to respond to the comments of mutual friends on your wall. But if your goal is to exit the election season with all your friends intact, it’s better to be attacked than to attack.
  • Be careful with the “like” button. With the election coming up, this was probably not the best time for Facebook to introduce additional emoji responses to the “like” button — especially that “angry” sign.  Who needs to learn that people are angry about your posts?  In any event, remember that the posts you “like” can be highlighted in your own newsfeed according to Facebook’s inexplicable algorithm, thereby exposing your political beliefs for all the world to scrutinize.
  • Think twice before commenting on someone else’s post.  Better still, don’t comment at all unless you can say something intelligent and unemotionally analytical.  If you feel like you want to bring down the wrath of God on your friend, it’s better to “hide” him/her until after the election.
  • Be subtle. If you feel compelled to go negative on a particular candidate don’t engage in name calling or ad hominem attacks. Find the soft underbelly and stick the knife in with an unassailable fact that can only be answered with a “yeah but.” If you can use a stiletto with good humor all the better. Example: reminding people that Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater Girl in 1964 at the same time that Bernie Sanders was getting arrested at civil rights demonstrations. Another example: finding and posting the video that shows Ted Cruz speaking in favor of immigration reform.
  • It’s still Open Season on Donald Trump. So many people are attacking Donald Trump that you aren’t likely to offend anyone by piling on at this stage.  And he does say so many outrageous things that you don’t have to be Mort Sahl to make a pungent political observation. Most Trump supporters are still too embarrassed to come out of the closet on Facebook. Fair warning, though: if Trump actually gets the nomination many Republicans will start coming on board and at that point, those anti-Trump comments will cease to be cost-free.

The sad thing is the election itself is still nine months away and feelings will only intensify as we get closer to November 2.  Pray for all our relationships between now and then.

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