How can we have meaningful, progressive conversations on social media?

We’ve all seen those politically charged posts on Facebook where the comments section is nothing but a brutal, unforgiving fight where no one really wins. I even experienced this when various people commented on my column for The Daily Iowan, arguing in the comments section and posting baseless statements for their perspectives. This single column racked up 37 comments, a staggering amount for the news organization.[0]=68.ARAdDDyZGBie0tGHX9X8gs0nIzYBaVI9jipenEACge9TUqXSXQ3MEShMA5Kh5I0rZTdtFOrK5yrBPIVNTTo_pBgXHGeQMRG0tHjskNOXyN_LZPSLua8YA3FL7qGis22UyS0l-ElxAGT73YFkyQ2DcVo1JyTT6J54ZeD8gn-Vbs6kVruoFi4DV07diVV79b4Yd0UYUBc82ekvnsJqd0DYW2sKFak3FA&__tn__=-R

Nowadays, political conversations on social media often end up with both sides blind to the other’s perspective and set in their individual beliefs. There is no middle ground because both sides are set in their angles, and a nasty attitude typically ensues on social media when someone doesn’t agree with another person’s political views. Instead of attempting to reach a common ground, users reemphasize the points they’ve already said and completely dismiss the other’s argument without recognizing the possible truths of that argument.

Climate change isn’t a bipartisan issue. It’s an indisputable, scientific fact. Yet, countless conservatives dismiss global warming because they don’t want to restrict big money businesses, and the planet is left to suffer. Their conservative constituents end up dismissing problems like climate change because of their loyalty to a political party.

This is not only a conservative, Republican problem. It applies to all parties, including liberal Democrats. Recently, congressional Democrats abused their power and made an unethical decision when they withheld information on Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault experience until they could use it to their advantage against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. However, most of Democrats only blamed Republicans for Kavanaugh’s confirmation despite the various allegations of sexual assault against women when he was in high school. While Republicans did play a huge part in his confirmation, Democrats could have brought this information forward earlier and perhaps gotten another, less abusive candidate for the Supreme Court.

Polarization has been getting worse in the United States, according to the studies of sociologist and social psychologist Robb Willer. He compares the current political sphere to that of a zombie apocalypse movie, embarking on ideas of mindlessly following pack leaders. The echo chambers people create on social media by only following people who align with their preconceived notions doesn’t create a space where much bounding of ideas can occur. People just become more cemented in their perspective, instead of considering other solutions or stances on an issue.

So, this comparison of people to zombies is spot on in reality. Users on social media consistently view Trump supporters as people, not even individuals, who blindly support Trump even after his posts or statements have been proven false by reputable organizations—whose purpose is to solely fact check.

A moral divide resides at the center of the impassable boundary between liberals and conservatives. Willer and his colleague Matthew Feinberg, assistant professor of organizational behaviour at Rotman, study the ways liberals and conservatives endorse different moral values, and subject themselves to an endless echo chamber of views that reflect their preconceived biases.

“We find that liberals tend to endorse values like equality and fairness and care and protection from harm more than conservatives do,” according to Willer and Feinberg. “And conservatives tend to endorse values like loyalty, patriotism, respect for authority and moral purity more than liberals do.”

So, the basis of the problem stems from different foundational ideologies of people. The way to move forward, actually create progress, and reach a solution to social issues is to respect each other’s moral ideologies by listening to them and aiming to compromise. This is crucial to politics in order to eliminate offensive, stagnant arguments surrounding political stances on social media.

This is echoed by political pundit Sally Kohn who argues that emotional correctness is crucial for true political change. By practicing emotional correctness and genuinely listening and showcasing compassion for respondents, people can transcend the boundaries of political differences and reach common ground.

You can’t get anyone to agree with you if they don’t even listen to you first,” Kohn said. “We spend so much time talking past each other and not enough time talking through our disagreements. And if we can start to find compassion for one another, then we have a shot at building common ground.”

Now, some of you may have family members or friends you think are too far gone to change. And that might be true because of their close-mindedness to other people’s opinions and moralities. However, I feel that it could never hurt to try an appeal to someone’s human nature by telling stories relating to your support for a particular political stance, instead of just arguing your stance right away with extremely charged words. That way the conversation can move forward through the utilization of human compassion, rather than the isolating emotional detachment of arguing on social media with repetitive points that can’t appeal to other people.

So, actually attempt to listen and understand where other people are coming from before you “go off” on social media in reaction to a point you don’t agree with, but haven’t taken the time to really consider. This can be harder to do on social media because posts are often impulsive. However, it’s of paramount importance to take the time to try and understand where a person’s coming from and respect their openness in order to move the conversation. If both sides are just spewing relentless hate and close-minded words, we will never achieve any progress.

Hopefully, learning to keep an open-mind and engage in considerate discussion will help to achieve some common ground and establish a world in which issues can actually be solved and bipartisan loyalties don’t eradicate human progression.

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