UNPOPULAR OPINION: Your Political Social Media Posts Aren’t Changing Anyone’s Mind

It’s not just the tone. It’s the motivation.
Publish date:
November 7, 2016
social media, HIllary Clinton, 2016 Election, Donald Trump

Making friends with a group of people that I totally disagree with politically was simultaneously the hardest and easiest thing I’ve ever done. They’re all significantly older than me and from different backgrounds, so it makes sense that we’d differ politically. It was hard because I was fresh out of my artsy college when I met them, so I was used to being in a place where everybody was as liberal as I was. But it was easy because thankfully we’re all adults and we can agree to disagree.

No, we’re not completely politically different. I think that when we have intermittent political talks, we spend the majority of them trying to find the common ground instead of pointing out our differences. But that’s not really an issue because we almost never talk politics, mostly because we know it’s not going to go anywhere, and again because we’re all adults and we can agree to disagree.

Now what do I mean when I say, “It’s not going to go anywhere?” Anyone who’s bashed their head against a brick wall gets it pretty immediately. It addresses the most frequently desired result of a political discussion, which is to get the other side to think you’re right and that they’re either wrong or less right than you are.

Which gets to the point of this essay, which is probably what drew you in with that snappy, sassy headline. Anyone on social media can tell you that the primary receptacle for grossly argumentative political discourse is on the internet, where nobody has to actually fling shit in person and so they don’t have to feel bad for it.

I’m not writing to say, “Stop arguing on Facebook.” Nobody is going to. But I just have to get off my chest the primary pet peeve that gets under my skin every time I read a political post. It’s not just the tone. It’s the motivation.

I saw a post the other day, in all caps, repeating for six or so lines, “DON’T WRITE IN BERNIE SANDERS!” After a wall of that, it went on to detail how only stupid people would do that, and how he’s not a viable candidate anymore, and you’re wasting your vote (or giving it to a certain sentient pumpkin), and you should vote Hillary instead.

It’s something about that perfectly ripped-from-Tumblr-posts format that pisses me right off; the concept that repetition, all caps, bolded text, or anything else is going to possibly make your point harder. No amount of emphasizing is going to make the alleged dumb people be any less dumb about what they’re doing.

For reference, it doesn’t matter if I personally agree with it or not. I could think it’s the most correct thing I’ve ever read. But what just drove me up a wall about it was the motivation behind it.

I can’t for the life of me picture somebody who’s planning on writing in Bernie Sanders’ name on the ballot on election day — somebody who has definitely figured out that the odds are not in favor of the guy, but is planning it anyway — who can read that post and think, “You know what? They’re right. I’m not gonna do that now.” Not a one, particularly not somebody as determined as to write in a candidate instead of following the clearly not-too-appealing ballot as it stands.

You’re going to be hard-pressed to tell me that the motivation of any post like that isn’t to convince people of your point. Generally, most political posts are the same way: striving for righteousness and change, more specifically change toward the direction they want. Why else would somebody go so far out of their way to literally command people to do what they want, because they’re saying it’s the right thing to do?

But of course the problem here — and the point of my snappy, sassy headline — is that nobody is going to listen. Like I mentioned with the people who are going to write in Bernie Sanders despite literally all evidence telling them that Bernie is not going to be elected this year, your aggressive Facebook post telling them they’re stupid is not going to change their mind, especially with people distancing themselves now so heavily from people with different political opinions — which brings my little personal ramble in the beginning full circle.

I see people defriending opposing parties from social media literally on only that basis. That’s fine. If seeing their shitty opinions upsets you, don’t look at them, and don’t be friends with them. But then after you do that, understand that there are no minds to change with your angry Facebook posts calling out the opposition. Even if there were, would your opinionated, condescending post really sway them?

No, which is why I’m writing this.

This election cycle in particular has drawn about such radical polarization that draws a clear line in the sand; literally nothing you say calling out Hillary is going to make a Hillary supporter not vote for her, and literally nothing you say pointing out shitty things Trump has done is going to make a Trump supporter not vote for him. No name-calling, no “fact-based” op-eds, no “new evidence” from your opinionated news source will make people be any less stubborn, and in fact will just make them angry. It’s just a waste of time and virtual breath.

But why will people keep writing this stuff regardless? Surely there’s a lengthening slew of comments now telling me that I’m wrong, and that there’s some convoluted secondary reason for political posts that’s extremely individual in nature. But like I’ve been saying, that won’t change my opinion (I’d put a tongue-out smiley here, but that’s terribly unprofessional and I’m sure the editors thank me).

The internet age has done a lot of good things for society. The saturation of media has made people more aware, more worldly, and usually more willing to question authority. This is all great. But there’s also the incredibly double-edged sword of social media we have to deal with. Yes it connects people more, but it also creates the unfortunate phenomenon of the “virtual soapbox” or, put more jadedly, the illusion that anybody gives a shit about your opinion.

The unfortunate truth about people that I’ve learned is that nobody wants to change their minds once they’ve been made up, particularly when it’s based on information from somebody they don’t view as an authority.

Now that people have an outlet to give opinions, some people may or may not be abusing the dickens out of it. Once you’re on your virtual soapbox, that means you don’t see the audience you have — you don’t need to, and you can literally say anything. But most of the people reading your opinions are: people who either agree with you completely and are using your soapbox to validate their soapbox, people who don’t care but want to see the shitstorm you may get, or people who are going to use the opportunity to knock you off the soapbox and cause the aforementioned shitstorm of angry personal comments. None of these get you anywhere close to your desired result of changing minds.

The world of social media isn’t really an outlet to discuss opinions, contrary to optimistic beliefs. It’s a place to shout opinions into dark space, where nobody will hear you or nobody will care.

That observation makes me a little bit jaded about writing this essay.

Since I befriended this horde of un-like-minded individuals, I’ve made a point to never try to convince them that they’re wrong. This is because while I genuinely do think they’re wrong on a lot of what they think (sorry, guys), I know that telling them that isn’t going to get anywhere. They’ll just think I’m wrong back, and somebody’s going to get condescending. Any shred of political discussion I’ll have with them happens at a bar, in which we’re usually too hammered to take each other seriously (or focus on the discussion).

“But, Rosey, if you don’t engage in debate, you’re never going to find common ground,” cry the commenters. I know. But I’m not talking about a debate, am I? No actual debate happens over the internet, and no actual debate happens when the people involved assume a position of superiority — hence why the last year of this sinkhole election has been literal torture.

Maybe I’m just non-confrontational about conflicting opinions. Or maybe I’m right, and people need to get off their virtual soapbox and take a healthy dose of reality that they aren’t helping their cause.