I saw a graphic online recently that I really wish I could find, so that I could share it here and make my blog more visually appealing, rather than just paraphrasing what the graphic said, which is what I’m actually going to do:

“Wow, I’m going to reevaluate my political and social beliefs based on that argument I just had on Facebook”- said no one ever.

I’ve seen a lot of people express that same sentiment- that debating political topics on Facebook is pointless because no one approaches the debate willing to do anything but defend their own position until their fingers fall off. That it’s not about listening, or dialoguing, or compromising; it’s about holding your own in an online shouting match and then walking away feeling smug because your grammar/arguments/logic/facts were superior to your opponents. That the anonymity and/or sense of distance that the internet provides entices people to be more vicious and hateful than they would be if they were talking to someone in person.

And unfortunately, that’s frequently true. (I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to this.)

But it doesn’t have to be.

I have a confession, which isn’t very surprising if you know me at all: I love debating issues on Facebook. Or Twitter, or the comment sections of blogs, or wherever.

If it’s done right, I think these websites are great forums for healthy, respectful debate. I mean, think about it. If I start a discussion about taxes, for example, on Facebook, I’ve opened up the debate to all of my friends and family who follow me, rather than just whoever happens to be in the room when I start ranting. I know you all run the spectrum of politics from fascist to communist, which means that there’s a good chance I will get a variety of opinions from people who have vastly different perspectives on life and experiences to draw from. And with the internet at our fingertips, we can easily find and provide evidence for our arguments.

And I know that people can come away from these debates with a changed perspective on the issues because I do it all the time. To be fair, I’m much less willing to hear what you have to say with an open mind when you attack me, refuse to address the issues I’ve raised with your perspective, or generally behave like a fool (but I think everyone’s like that). And, like most people, there are some subjects that I know I’m just not going to cave on (you’re not going to convince me that my place is in the home, or that birth control is a sin, for example), and so I try to stay away from debates that deal with those topics, since I know I’m not capable of fully participating in a civil exchange of ideas there. (But I’m not perfect.)

But I have changed my perspective on many issues after talking to people on Facebook about why they had a different opinion on an issue than I did. They opened my eyes to opinions that I hadn’t previously considered, and I walked away from the discussion with a more nuanced view of the world. And none of it would have ever happened had I not jumped into a Facebook debate. (I don’t know if I’ve had the same effect on anyone else, but I hope I have!)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, yes, talking about politics or social issues on Facebook can frequently devolve from civilized conversation to a shouting match that would make Jerry Springer proud. But if we could just behave ourselves, and be nice, I think talking politics on Facebook is a wonderful thing. Honestly, people use social media for so many silly things (pictures of food, anyone?) that to mock people for using social media as a way to discuss the most important issues of our day seems silly itself. And for those who are willing to debate with an open mind (which should just be common courtesy for debates in the first place), the rewards can be innumerable.

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