If you want people to like you and think of you as a good person and a great friend then you shouldn’t argue on social media like Facebook or Twitter.
When you finish this article you’ll learn why it’s a very bad idea to argue with that guy you once had a class with four years ago who keeps posting ignorant political rants on his facebook page.
If you want to get more people to like you and if you want to obtain a reputation as a social and “good” person then you need to understand why people post inflammatory or controversial things on facebook.
Hint: they don’t do it to have their opinions challenged or debated.
If you use social media and you don’t understand this then you are probably making other people feel annoyed or even angry at you.
Political Rants and Social/Religious Posts Are Not About That Specific Issue
The first thing to realize right off the bat is that when you come across someone ranting about something the evil Republicans, or the evil Democrats, did they’re not actually very concerned with the specific thing they’re talking about. Their more important goal is to communicate to people that they hold a certain opinion in order to show what kind of person they are.
What they’re doing is virtue signalling.
What is virtue signalling? It is when a person says something or does something to demonstrate that they are a “good person” to other people.
I have an aunt who once volunteered at a soup kitchen five years ago for about three weeks on Fridays. That’s not very much time actually helping the homeless and less fortunate. But she has spent the five years since bringing up her “volunteer work” at every social occasion and get together. She never misses a chance to work it into a conversation with a new acquaintance or post about it on facebook when issues like poverty or economy come up:
“Well from my experience volunteering with homeless people I think that the economy blah blah blah…”
Was my aunt ever concerned about helping homeless people at the soup kitchen? Maybe a little bit. But subconsciously what has become more important to her is that she can use this as a shortcut to signal to people that she is a “good person who cares about the poor”.
And this is what most facebook posts about politics or religion or social justice boil down to. People want to make strong statements about a particular topic in order to signal to their friends and relatives that they are a “good person” with a set of principles.
We all know that a facebook post broadcast to about 300-700 friends isn’t going to magically end the abortion issue. But people on both sides of that issue will make strong and emotional posts and display them to their friends. When you realize that their real goal is to demonstrate their character to their friends and not actually to debate abortion their behaviour on facebook begins to make sense.
Remember virtue signalling is usually not something a person consciously does. It is subconscious.
You Cannot Have A Real Discussion With Someone Who Is Virtue Signalling
Facebook and social media posts are not about having a discussion. You’re not going to write a few paragraphs back and forth with another person and at the end have one of you admit that they were wrong and that they are going to change their mind.
When you criticize or argue with someone who is virtue signalling you are attacking someone who wants to show to other people that they are a good person.
If you are like I used to be then you might assume that a facebook post about something like income inequality means that the other person wants to debate income inequality. So you fire back a composed and rational reply.
But the other person doesn’t want a debate. They don’t see your reply as the beginning of a reasoned discussion. They feel it as an attack on their public character and identity that they just declared to the world with their original post.
And they will associate you with these feelings of attack and hostility. Not something that you want if you desire that people like you.
If someone posts about the good christianity has done in an attempt to communicate that they are a devout and religious “good person” and you respond by criticizing christianity and pointing out the bad that it has done then the reaction from them will be hostility and dislike. They identify as a christian who has publicly said something good about christianity and by contradicting them in public you are attacking their identity as a person.
Why Don’t People Just “Toughen Up” And Stop Taking Such Offence?
At this point you might be tempted to ask: “So people get offended when you contradict them on facebook? Well isn’t that a very childish thing to do? Shouldn’t they grow up and learn how to engage with someone who politely disagrees with them?”
Yes they should.
But they won’t.
People are not professional philosophers who study each opinion they hold under the spotlight of reason and empirical evidence. Most people obtain their political and philosophical positions purely through emotion and peer/cultural pressure. If they see that their favourite talk show host or celebrity believes something that’s usually good enough for them.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of smart people out there. But even smart people tend to come to their opinions because of emotion rather than reason or evidence. They will form their opinion first and then find the evidence that supports that opinion and ignore contradictory evidence.
I’m not attacking other people or calling myself more intelligent. I’m the exact same way. And you probably are as well. Even Einstein held some dodgy views about politics and culture and he’s considered one of the most intelligent people of the 20th century.
Don’t Try To “Fix” Opinion, Try To Be A Good Friend
What is your goal? Is it to have friends and to have people like you? Or is it to always be “right” in every conversation and public debate? You cannot have both.
There will be times late at night when you and a good friend will sit around and have a serious discussion about the world or politics or religion. You’ll both learn from each other and become closer friends.
But facebook is not that place.
What Image Do You Broadcast Of Yourself?
Above and beyond the reaction you provoke from the person you are arguing with you also have to keep in mind everyone on your friends list (and their friends list) that can see the argument.
Even if you are 100% in the right most people will still think of you as negative or argumentative if they see you engaging in internet arguments.
Social media is a great tool to keep in touch with your friends. But you have to start thinking of it as an extension of the image of yourself that you broadcast to the world.
When you buy new clothing you choose the clothing that will present you in the best possible light to other people. You have to adopt the same behaviour with facebook/twitter. Before you post something consider whether that post is presenting you in the best possible light to your friends, family, and the world.
Train Yourself To Be Tolerant Of “Wrong” Opinion
It is not your responsibility to educate other people. Especially not on facebook. You only annoy others and hurt your own image when you try to do so. Nothing productive or positive is accomplished. Even if you totally destroy the “horrible” opinion the other person has dared post you have not changed anything.
In fact that other person probably believes their horrible opinion more strongly than ever. People tend to double-down when they are publicly called wrong. (There’s a great book about this phenomenon called When Prophecy Fails, I really recommend it.”
Maybe you’re tempted to say: “Well I’m going to tell ‘the truth’ and if someone takes offence and dislikes me then that’s their problem and I’ve removed someone ignorant from my life!”
Some of the best friends you will ever have in life will hold at least a few opinions that you find unacceptable. It is the sign that you have become a mature adult when you gain the ability to tolerate their opposing opinions while remaining friends.
Something that modern society often fails to teach: the most important form of tolerance is tolerance of opinion and thought.
Who Do You Want To Be?
You can be the positive friend who is always kayaking and hanging out in cool clubs or working on amazing projects/hobbies or raising an amazing little kid.
Or you can be the negative and vicious internet warrior who tears down anyone with an opposing opinion with snarky or arrogant replies.
People don’t live in your head. They don’t know what kind of person you are “inside”. They can only judge what kind of person you are by what you put out into the world.
Use social media to broadcast the best possible version of yourself. Use it as a tool to attract positive and friendly people into your life.
Once in a while it is okay to post your own positive political and social opinions to communicate what kind of person you are, just do it as your own post and not as a comment on someone else’s post. And don’t engage in argument if someone leaves you a snarky reply. Nothing productive will come from that.
Instead, why not invite that person out for a drink to discuss an issue that you both are passionate about? You might just make a new best friend.