October 31, 2018

6 Ways to Tackle Divisive Conversations Online—without Making Things Worse.


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“Evil is intelligent, and it’s smart. It’s invisible. It doesn’t have a color. It doesn’t have a race. It doesn’t have a religion. It has no politics. It’s an invisible snake that while it is planning to make its attack, it is thinking, I am going to divide my enemy.” ~ Lady Gaga while meeting with the Dalai Lama 


Every time I open my social feed, I feel a rush of anxiety.

I realize that half my friends perceive the world differently. My chest tightens and my stomach churns when I see alarming posts of world events or political policy decisions. My social media friends and even family are divided. Every so often I’ll see a rude post with put-downs or aggressive remarks against a group of people who think a certain way.

According to a report by YouGov Omnibus, over a quarter of Americans have made malicious online comments, and 28 percent of Americans admitted malicious online activity directed at somebody they didn’t know.

Malicious comments in my feed are rare but still filter through and put me in a negative space. It hurts my heart to see Americans fighting with cruel words. We can be so hateful and divisive in our language—and if I feel this way, what do others around the world think of us?

It feels so overwhelming at times that the only thing I can do is to become more aware of what I post—to share ideas and viewpoints but to do it in a way that reduces the negative impact that turns so many of us off.

The labels we use: Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Snowflake, make it possible to turn a blind eye to the fact that these are actual people. It strips away our humanity and the nuances we all experience. It makes everything two-sided—wrong versus right. This is such a simplistic view of the world when there is so much more to what makes us all tick.

I’m not suggesting that we stop sharing ideas or that we can’t have disagreements on Facebook—far from it. Of course, when we see an injustice we need to call it out strongly. But in my social dialogue, I can choose “how” to write about the subjects I share.

Will I denigrate people who don’t think like me or will I choose to listen, stand on facts, and share well-researched opinions to inform discourse?

And yes, I am a hypocrite. Sharing divisive posts? Sure—I’m guilty. The bubble that reinforces my viewpoint surrounds me too. Without mindful reflection, it’s all too easy to contribute to the divisive, anxiety producing nature of social media.

Recently I shared what I thought was an innocuous Facebook post about solutions to Social Security, not realizing it included the words, “what every <insert political party here> doesn’t want you to know.” A good friend immediately pointed out that not all <insert political party here> feel that way nor are they hiding something.

If I wanted to reach people with a broader political spectrum or get them to at least hear me out—a post like this will not work.

Using mindfulness to influence positive discourse.

I can see the eye rolls now. Yes, this may be overly optimistic. It is highly possible the glasses I’m wearing are tinted rose, but for my own sanity I must do my part to make social spaces just a little more peaceful.

So, I’ve made a pact with myself. I will try to be mindful of all posts. I will try to keep the focus on issues and share my opinions without creating deeper division. I will:

1. Stick to the issue not the “label.” Sharing a different viewpoint is good, but it’s so easy to get caught up in the rhetoric and tribalism. I will need to stay mindful of labels and painting large groups of people with one big brush.

2. Pay attention to physical cues. If my heart is racing while writing a response, it’s time to take a step back. Walking away for 10 minutes before posting may be the best thing if I don’t want to live in regret.

3. Use humor to turn negatives into positives. My husband uses this tactic. When he witnesses insults between friends he uses humor to break the tension. His honest intention of respect and love for both people tones things down.

4. Do my research before posting. I posted a ridiculous meme only to find out it wasn’t even true! Now I check multiple news sources before posting. Snopes is now one of my favorite bookmarks.

5. Listen, recognize hypocrisy, and be open. I love that my friend called me out when I submitted a divisive post. It gave me the awareness I needed. Would I have still posted “Real-World Solutions to Social Security that No <insert political party here> Wants you to Know?” Sure, I still might have—but I also might have acknowledged how I disagreed with the divisive remark and focused on the main issue.

6. Share something funny or positive. We need more cat videos and funny anecdotes in our feeds. Share good news!

Using these six mindful techniques, I will try to do my part to make the social feeds less divisive. If I fail, it’s okay, I’m not perfect—just let me know.

Many of my friends have completely given up on social media because of the politics or divisive conversations that go on. But I will not leave. Nor will I stop sharing opinions. It’s important to continue the open dialogue social media provides.

While social media has its challenges, there is still so much good that can come from us sharing different views with our friends and loved ones. One of my favorite memes said it best:

“Being taught to avoid talking about politics and religion has led to a lack of understanding of politics and religion. What we should have been taught was how to have a civil conversation about a difficult topic.” ~ Source: Unknown

We have the power to unite in the social realm as much as we have to divide. I hope to find a social voice that encourages the sharing of ideas without causing harm.

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Julie Pacheco Greene

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