Navigating Facebook In A Politically Divided America

A few days ago, I was ranting over the phone to my mother. Now, this isn’t an unusual experience–my mom has always been my sounding board when it comes to annoying professors or complicated friendships or the ever-important debate over white vs. red wine. (Hint: the answer is rosé!) However, fresh from the NYC Women’s March and with Trump’s most recent executive orders ringing in my ears and breaking my heart, I was ready to go off about just anything political. Thus, I found myself ranting about a viral video I had seen on Facebook that contained negative and blatantly false information about Planned Parenthood. I won’t go into the details of my tirade, but I will tell you what my mother said to me next: “Ellie, why don’t you just get off of Facebook?”

Now, that was an idea, but not one that I’m willing to try out. Being a college student, I’m far away from tons of friends who I keep in contact with over social media, and I can’t even tell you the number of events I’ve attended on my college campus or in the city that I first saw on my newsfeed; as much as I’d love to be tranquil and tech-free, it just isn’t possible for me right now. However, the suggestion that I try approaching my political landmine of a Facebook feed in a different manner stuck with me, and since then I’ve come up with a few ways to turn the negativity of our modern media into a positive motivator for growth and learning. Here are a few:

1 . Discover the best news sources

It is a truth universally acknowledged that not all news sources are created equal, and as much as I love clicking on clickbait articles that my friends share on Facebook while waiting for class to start, I know that I can’t get all of my information in the form of listicles. In order to diversify and legitimize your news sources, make sure you know exactly who is providing the information you’re consuming: if it has a name that could be confused with a politically aware alt-rock band, it’s probably not the most trustworthy fount of information. Instead, subscribe to both well-regarded conservative and liberal media pages for a feed that’s been fact-checked.

2. Read up on opposing opinions

If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, you see quite a few opinion pieces written by peers– whether through a platform like the Lala, or through a personal blog–and have taken a look at what your friends and acquaintances are saying. This is where things might get messy: opposing opinions clash in the comments section of such posts, and I’ve seen more than one friendship pushed onto the rocks because of the drama that ensues. My advice is to keep an open mind (within reason, of course), and try to understand the other side of the story.You don’t need to like what you see…all you need is to try and open up channels of conversation so we can work this out without too many unfriendly altercations.

3. Take your anger and put it to work!

If step two above just doesn’t work…then take that anger and get active. There are so many charities and volunteer organizations that are working to support those affected negatively by #AltFacts, and they need your help. Your frustration can translate into helping others, which has a far better impact on the world than a subtweet. Did you know just this weekend alone the ACLU made 6x their normal yearly donations? Just a few days executive orders were signed they had more than $24 million worth of donations. Power to the people.

4. And when all else fails, take a break

This last idea is where my mom’s original advice comes in: if you’re exhausted by the toxic political discourse on social media, feel free to step away from the computer. Staying on social media is a totally different action than staying informed, so get a small dose of the politics on your nightly news show and then let your opinions form without the commentary of others. Once you’re ready to dive back into the Facebook frenzy, you’ll be refreshed and ready to engage once more.

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