Social Media in Challenging Times
This article was inspired by a recent experience on a friend’s Facebook page. My friend is a professional coach, and does a lot of her marketing on FB, where she has nearly 5,000 friends.
Recently, my friend was horrified by a recent statement made by our current president. For her, a line had been crossed, and she wanted to stand up for her values and principles. And so she wrote a post, asking her friends to join her in condemning this statement.
I support my friend’s intentions. At the same time, it’s not so easy to facilitate group conversations across ideological divides these days! I imagine my friend may have been surprised to see how many people with very different perspectives responded and began to engage in some quite intense conversations..
In addition to sharing my friend’s values as a political progressive, I am also a professional facilitator, a collaboration consultant and participatory leadership coach. As such, I often work with groups where people hold different political perspectives.
Based on my own experiences with dialogue across differences, I wanted to pull together some questions to offer my friend, and others who are in her situation. But first, I wanted to take a step back, and invite readers to consider their options when it comes to “mixing business with politics”. As I see it, there are at least three different options…
Option One: bridging divides
Do you really want to use your FB page as a place to have productive conversations across political divides? If you do, that’s great; there’s a whole further set of questions and resources that I can offer you in “Part Two” of this article.
However, I want to caution you that while this may be a worthwhile option, it is not an easy one; and, there are other worthwhile alternatives you may want to consider.
Option Two: refining your “niche”
One alternative is to use the current political situation as an opportunity to refine your “niche’. Who do you want to be serving? There are a LOT of left-of-center folks who are in need of your services. There is no rule book that says you need to “market to everyone” by having your FB friends include people of all political orientations.
Of course, there is definitely a danger associated with “staying within our own bubble”. We can start to think that everyone believes the same way that we do, and that can create a dangerous illusion. HOWEVER… maybe you are already being exposed to other perspectives, in other areas of your life? Maybe you have some family members who are conservative, and as such, you are getting plenty of exposure to that belief system already? Or, maybe you have a few good friends in your life who has a different political perspective than you do, and that is enough for you to stay in touch with, others who think differently…
You are the only one who has the full picture, of the current level of diversity in your sources of information. And also, you are the one who gets to choose, what you want to use your FB page for… to broaden your sense of the political diversity in this country right now? Or, to find support among like-minded folks? A good case could be made, either way… and, it ultimately depends on your particular situation.
Especially for folks who think it’s always a bad thing to be in a bubble, I want to recommend Cass R. Sunstein’s How Change Happens. This book has shifted some of my own previously-held perspectives. You know how we activists sometimes bemoan that “we are only preaching to the choir”? Well, it turns out that “preaching to the choir” can have some EXTREMELY useful functions…
Sunstein writes about social science research findings that deliberating about an issue among a group of like-minded people, tends to make participants more confident, more informed, and therefore, more committed to their values. He points out that this could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the values you are espousing… :-) AND, that you also need to find ways of staying in touch with the reality that not everyone thinks the way that your group does; otherwise, always being in an “echo chamber” can indeed lead to some serious strategic miscalculations.
Still, Sunstein writes, “In any society, would-be social reformers do well to create forums, whether in-person, over-the-air, in cyberspace, or in print, in which people with similar inclinations speak frequently with one another and can develop a clear sense of shared perspective.” (p. 32)
So, if you want your business to mainly serve progressive folks, and you have a social media site where your friends and fans congregate, you could be serving a vital role by bringing up political conversations in that space — especially if you can get people to dig a bit deeper, and share valuable information with one another, rather than just offer sympathy and emotional support (though of course those can be extremely useful as well!)
Option Three: working for political change in other areas of your life
Ok, now we come to the third alternative. (There may well be more, but these are the three main ones I am seeing at the moment.) And that’s to not bring up political issues on your FB page.
While that would not be my own choice, I want to say that I do see it as a valid option. There are many different ways to be politically active… and some people make the point that it could be much more effective to do other kinds of activism (such as get-out-the-vote efforts!) rather than spending one’s time on social media, whether facilitating bridging conversations across divides (option 1 above) or culling one’s list of facebook friends in order to have productive conversations with like-minded folks about political issues (option 2 above.)
At the same time, this option does not mean that we have to “hide” our political beliefs. It’s possible to have a statement that says something along the lines of, “These are my values, you are welcome to yours, AND, we don’t encourage political conversations on this FB page, as that is not how I am choosing to spend my time here.”
While there is definitely some degree of skill involved in gently and firmly turning the conversation back when it starts to veer off in a direction that is outside the boundaries you have set for your page, this is less complex than managing option 1.
And yes, there is definitely privilege in simply having the choice to avoid taking political issues head on, in our work. One relevant question we can ask ourselves is, “Am I using my privilege to work for justice in other areas of my life?” Also, by choosing to not bring up political issues, some of clients may well feel unsupported, and choose to drift away to other pages. There are always trade-offs to consider, regardless of what choice we make.
OK… so now we are back to option 1 above. Recall my initial question: “Do you really want to use your FB page as a place to have productive conversations across political divides?” If the answer is “yes”, what follows in Part Two includes some tips and resources for doing so, in these challenging times…