Sharing safely online

Last week’s discussions on Facebook, politics, and religion prompted one of my friends to ask me just how one goes about sharing something that they are passionate about without annoying people like me. It’s an excellent question, and while I will take a crack at it, I also want feedback from all of you. If you know something you would like to write about may offend people, is there a way to approach sharing that will cause the least offense? I’m not sure there is a way to share anything without offending anyone, but I think there should be some ways to avoid offending those who are not starting their day every day looking for things to get upset about.

As the cliche goes, recognizing you have a problem is the first step. If you’re aware that something you write about may cause offense you’re already miles ahead of someone who never ever realizes they could offend someone. Chances are you’ll approach the post differently than if you are going out there looking to let someone have it. Unless, of course, you just don’t care. I can’t help those people.

But here are a few other ideas:

Recognize the other side: If you know there are people in your friend list or who visit your site who will think differently on the issue, recognize that. Little “disclaimers” like “I know some of you feel differently about this, but I’d like to discuss a few points from my perspective” or something along those lines.

Don’t treat the other side like the enemy:¬† Many times you can discuss your viewpoint without even mentioning the other side, let alone attacking them. If you can outline your beliefs calmly, while providing as much about your perspective as you can, it will likely be received well, especially if you make it clear you’re discussing your perspective. The more you talk about “I feel this way” or “It seems to me” the more you take the pressure off them and give you both some breathing room.

No strawmen: If you need to discuss the opposition’s viewpoint, be fair. Don’t cite their flimsiest, most stereotypical arguments. Pick their best ones. If you let the other side know that you know what they think and that you’ve taken the time to dig deeper they’ll be more likely to respect your arguments and pay attention to you. If there are weaknesses in your side’s arguments, acknowledge them.

No name-calling: You can call someone’s beliefs the “biggest basket of warmed-over bull-pucky I’ve ever had the displeasure of smelling”, but you’ve not only not really rebutted their argument, but you’ve weakened your own. All you’ve said is that you lack the self-control to practice even basic debate technique. Don’t go there. Don’t say anything negative about your opponents, no matter how much you may feel they’ve got it coming. Address their views, their arguments–not them.

Be positive: Don’t sit there and warn about the dire consequences if your opposition gets their way. Talk about the benefits of your ideas. Discuss how your topic has helped you. It’s much harder for people to find fault with personal experiences. What are they going to say? “No! You didn’t really have a spiritual experience! It was just indigestion!” It’s hard to refute personal experience. And again, it takes the focus off them and makes it feel less like an attack that they have to defend against.

No sloganeering: Everyone should know by now I get irritated by political meme-pics that over-simplify issues and treats the other side like either they don’t exist or are the worst/stupidest idea ever. If your argument is nothing more than a sound-bite you don’t have an argument. No matter how convincing it may be to you, a clever turn of phrase isnot the end of the discussion. You do yourself and your opposition a great disservice by assuming the issue is so simple that you can catch-phrase away all opposing arguments.

-Be prepared to defend what you value:If you do get into discussions in the comments, be willing to crack down on commentors who are not being civil or respectful, even if they’re on your side. Your argument will not be bolstered by having these people on your side, but your credibility will be if you show yourself willing to call people out for breaking your rules, regardless of their viewpoint.

So that would be my main thoughts. With all my complaining last week I certainly would not want to imply that politics, religion, and other sensitive topics have no place on Facebook or other social media. People should be able to talk about the things that matter to them. I think it can be done–at least in such a way as the sensible people on the other side (and there are sensible people on the other side) will recognize and reward your approach with equally-respectful dialogue. There will be trolls, but they’re much easier to ignore if you’ve made a safe place for the truly thoughtful people to share ideas.

What am I missing? What other thoughts are there for approaching potentially sensitive issues in a way that encourages open, constructive discussion? Weigh in! I need this advice as much or more than anyone, so any help is appreciated!