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SALT LAKE CITY— The 2016 election has created a uniquely volatile social media environment. Although we see so much arguing among friends, acquaintances and random commenters due to stark differences between the main presidential candidates this year, the one thing we can all agree on is that it will be fantastic when the election is over, and we can all get along again.
Reports show the internet’s influence on politics has hit an all-time high in 2016. Increased accessibility to online articles and ease of sharing opinions with the masses via social media have put the election at the forefront of most of our daily thoughts, regardless of whether we like it.
If you’re struggling to deal with incessant political arguments every time you open Facebook, you’re not alone. Here are five ways you can change your account settings and posting habits to help you survive social media and get through to the day after the election, without losing your sanity or burning bridges with friends.
1. Unfollow instead of unfriend
Many of us are reluctant to unfriend people on Facebook who we see in person. Unfriending a coworker or family member whose political posts are getting on your nerves might make things a bit awkward, if they find out. Fortunately, there’s a way to temporarily remove their posts from your timeline without them knowing.
If you want to put Facebook friends' posts on pause, unfollow instead of unfriend them, with the help of Facebook’s guide. If you decide you’d like to see their content after Election Day, simply follow them again when you’re ready. This way, you can rid your Facebook feed of political negativity without burning any bridges.
2. Use custom sharing options
If you enjoy sharing political views online, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, you might be opening yourself to negative comments from those who disagree with you. If you feel inclined to post a political article or a personal perspective and would like to avoid potential backlash, use Facebook’s custom sharing setting to control who can see your posts.
If you have friends who often get into heated arguments in Facebook comment sections, add them to the list of people who cannot see your politically-driven post. Facebook has a guide for how to do this.
3. Opt for private discussions
It’s not bad to share your opposing views with someone, but it has potential to go awry if you do it publicly. Etiquette expert Diane Gottsman advised readers in an NBC News article, “If you want to call someone out on their rant, do it privately."
Sending a private message will help you have a civil discussion about the topic. Public discourse often leads people to think in terms of “who’s winning and who’s losing?” which can bring out the worst in most of us, as we try to defend not just our views, but our pride.
The best course of action is usually to hide annoying rant posts and ignore them, but if you feel a strong need to respond, think about your response carefully, and send it privately.
4. Express opinion with tact
Speaking of responses, maintain your composure and provide a tactful argument if you want your opinion to be heard and not dismissed. Use strategic empathy to craft an effective response.
Strategic empathy is described by social media pros as understanding pain in a given community, using caution in word choice and using the power of a pause. Although it’s commonly used by marketers to appeal to their social audiences, it can also be effective when addressing arguments in your personal life.
Take a moment to see the issue from friends' perspectives. Why might they think differently than you, and how can you express that you respect their opinions in your messages to them? When you choose your words, how can you avoid things, such as put downs and disrespectful language, that might trigger a negative response? Lastly, consider taking a moment to assess your response. Give yourself an hour to think through what you have to say and how you will express it.
5. Practice self care
Taking time to quiet your thoughts and reset your mind each day will help you handle stressful situations when they arise. A staggering 52 percent of Americans say the election is causing additional stress in their lives. If you’re letting the stress get to you for most of your day, your chances for exploding in response to opposing political rants in your feed are high.
Carve out some time in your daily routine for a little relaxation. Something as simple as 30 minutes of guided meditation or yoga could make a significant difference in your ability to handle a disagreement with poise and tact. If meditation and yoga don’t appeal, check out this guide to self care for more ideas from Psychology Today.
Political discourse is nothing short of overwhelming this election year, but we’re almost to the finish line. Soon the election will be over, and we can all go back to posting adorable cat videos and sharing the latest Buzzfeed quiz. Until then, use these tips to keep relationships with friends, family and acquaintances by steering away from online arguments.