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Here’s How to Talk Politics Online Without Wanting to Break Your Phone

Q: Maybe you heard, Americans are having an election this week. That means the political posts on social media are about to increase exponentially. Let’s say I’m feeling brave, engaged and I want to make my views known, what’s the proper etiquette for having a political discussion online?

A: Some might think I’d advise you to avoid online political debate altogether. But actually I’m for it! Frankly, I wish the internet was the only place we were allowed to talk politics. I’m tired of parties being ruined by debates about Russian bots grabbing women by the email servers, or whatever. I’d much rather deal with politics where no one can see me rolling my eyes at them.

Still, there does need to be some decorum on social media. There’s a fine line between sharing your opinion with others and trolling people from the safety of your basement. Being a jerk because you’re anonymous wasn’t cool in AOL chat rooms and it’s just as gross in the Comments Section of HuffPost today.1

Keep your online discussions at least as civil as you would when you ruin my cocktail parties in person. I’ve never been to a wine tasting and had someone call me a “Libtard,” for instance. While there is always some jackass who claims he’d gladly insult you to your face, this person is not actually looking for a debate. He’s doing the political equivalent of sending unsolicited penis photos. If you wouldn’t have a drink with him in a bar, why humour him in the imaginary pub that is Facebook?

But even if you try to imagine you’re in the same room as your colleague, tone is a challenge. What is meant as a playful raised eyebrow can easily be read as a middle finger.  The best bet, then, is to follow the guiding principle of high school debate: the more boring, the better.2 There’s no room for emotion in high school debate class. Straw men3 are verboten. Insults aren’t allowed.4 If you accuse someone of being a communist,you’d better be able to show your work. In fact, that may be the most important rule of online debate: any assertion should you make should be backed up by a reputable source (emphasis on reputable).5

And, more than anything, you have to end each debate by agreeing to disagree. Because, let’s face it, you weren’t going to ever change each other’s minds anyway. The least you can do is make it a little less awkward for that day you eventually wind up at the same cocktail party.

References   [ + ]

1. This is true for all sites, except for YouTube. That comment section was sacrificed to the trolls back in like ’06. It is the Mos Eisley [STAR WARS REFERENCE] of the Internet.
2. I never did debate in high school, but from what I can tell, it was very important for it to be as boring as possible.
3. As political debate increases, certain words are at risk of losing their meaning through overuse. Straw men is one of them.
4. Except “your momma” jokes, which are never not appropriate.
5. Maybe complete non-partisanship isn’t possible, but there are sources that are better than others. For instance: we’re not a reputable news source.