The Facebook Front

This tweet hit home. I, too, am fatigued — my head has been on a swivel the past week trying to keep up with executive orders, confirmation hearings, and alternative facts.

In particular, I’ve been wondering how to interact effectively with Facebook since the new administration took office. For me, Facebook has historically been a relatively thought-less place. I toss up stuff that catches my eye, I follow pages and find events, I ramble when I’m in a rambling mood, I share pics of my kids because I’m too lazy to email them to relatives, even though that’s probably smarter. I’ve used it as my own little bulletin board, basically.

But as someone with FB friends who range from convenience store clerks to Ivy League professors, I’ve come to consider Facebook a critical theater in our current culture war. And the election was a major battle lost there.

As the White House continues to lie, threaten, and silence our media and civil servants, truth and decency need to prevail and social bonds need to strengthen. In order for that to happen, though, we need to fundamentally shift how we use Facebook (perhaps all social media). Maybe not forever, but certainly until our political situation stabilizes.

Here’s a strategy to consider — the tl;dr version:

  • First, pick an area of concern to become a trustworthy source on and focus your “political” posts primarily about that area (in addition to regular cat videos, etc.). Let your friends know they can rely on you for quality info and action in that area.
  • Second, use PMs instead of your feed to vent/gloat/jeer/freak out, ideally in small-to-medium sized groups (6–30) of people you trust but who aren’t limited to your usual daily crowd.
  • Third, organize and promote real world events (marches, city council meetings, book groups, etc.) as much as possible.
  • Also, don’t be a jerk.

Some deeper analysis:

Two things lead me to believe we have a critical window of opportunity to make a difference right now. First, the pace of information coming at us is dizzying. Those of us who (try to) follow it are freaking out, largely because it’s alarming but also because there’s SO MUCH SO FAST. If we can figure out how to drink from this fire hose, to make this content digestible for the average citizen, we’ll help democracy stay on its feet.

Second, a lot of friends who were happy and haughty on FB after the election have now quieted. Their “wait and see” approach is already bearing fruit. Strange, bitter fruit. Also, the FB lurkers — the friends who rarely post and are so easy to forget about— are starting to ‘like’ things here or there, to get off the fence. If only the vocal folks voted for Trump, there’s no way he would have won. We need to welcome these more cautious, quieter voices into the conversation.

Given these shifts, I think each of us needs to a) become trustworthy, reliable sources of info on FB and b) prepare a soft place for folks to land, whether they’re jumping the Trump/GOP ship or just easing off the fence. This will help us remain knowledgable, focused, and open.

“OMG! WHAT NEXT?” and “I told you so!” are not helping right now. It’s no longer about choosing sides in an election, it’s about the fate of our nation. We MUST stay connected and keep lines of communication open. We have to resist the urge to unfriend people. If you’ve unfriended folks you disagree with over the last few months, now might be a good time to reconnect so they can see your posts (even if you still “unfollow” theirs).

All that said, we also need to continue to use FB to find solidarity, share our lives and maintain normalcy (keep those cat videos coming), and organize/connect in real life. It needs to remain a place we’ll keep coming back to for a variety of reasons.

Let’s make Facebook work for us and our country right now.

Step 1 — Commit to a Cause

Many of us care about many things, but we need to stop clogging our feeds with every bit of news that’s noteworthy. Read all that news, yes, but primarily share that which you can speak on with some authority and accuracy. This week, I’ve seen a lot of us unwittingly sharing old articles and copy/pasting the same “calls to action” without checking to see if they’re current or reliable. It makes us look scattered and whiny and it makes us FEEL scattered and whiny. We have to stop throwing congressional phone numbers around like confetti and start posting with laser-like intent.

Remember: Chaos is the goal of the White House Goon Squad. They are trying to destabilize and demoralize. Panicking does NOT make anyone safer. If we want people to veer away from this horror show, we need to present an open, calm, and clear alternative path. We also need to know what’s actually going on.

In order to stay current and connect people, we need to work together in a flexible but sustainable way. Here’s how we can stay collectively on point and also leverage our individuality.

Pick one or two areas of concern to OWN. Follow it closely, do your research, stay current, and speak up/post about it consistently. If you’re not sure which concern/category to own, I suggest that “In this house, we believe…” meme as a framework. It’s simple, affirmative, and really covers a lot of ideological turf. Each category is distinct yet ample.

* Black Lives Matter (racial justice)
* Women’s Rights are Human Rights (reproductive rights, gender equality)
* No Human is Illegal (immigration, refugees, foreign policy)
* Science is Real (education, environmental justice, #alternativefacts)
* Love is Love (LGBTI, social welfare)

Also choose ONE area to be a committed ALLY to. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about the others, but it does mean you’ll make a concerted effort to “like” those posts, support those friends who have taken that cause up as their primary one, amplify reliable voices on the subject matter (all while remembering you’re in a supporting not a lead role).

For ownership, choose something others recognize you as having vested, personal interest in and knowledge about. This builds trust, and trust is essential for both processing info quickly and engaging conflict successfully. When my friends who own small businesses speak up about the economy, I listen. When my friends who work in insurance talk about ACA, I listen. When my single parent friends talk about childcare, I listen. If you don’t know which topic you’re inherently trusted on, ask your friends. And when you share content, get personal. Write a line or two about why it matters to you. Tag others who you know are personally affected by it. Make it real.

For allyship, choose something you’re not necessarily a primary source on but have a lot of fire in your belly for.

Once you’ve committed, let others know that they can rely on you in those areas. Then when their Aunt Martha or frat brother engages on that topic, they can ask a committed, knowledgable friend (you) to help them respond in a fast, accurate, and practiced way. This will keep us from exhausting ourselves by trying to do too much or staying silent because we’re not sure what to say. We can’t each carry all of this, but together we can carry it all.

But remember: We all need to commit to Kindness. Tone matters when building coalitions, when changing hearts and minds. Don’t condescend; don’t mock; don’t yell. Smug+scared is a bad look. Also, don’t bring a fact-checker to a rhetoric fight. If enough people found statistics compelling, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Step 2 — Fire Up the Private Messages

Start using PMs more strategically. When I notice that someone has posted something really problematic, I try to engage them in a PM rather than on their post. I might respond to the post with an angry face or make a small comment to express my disagreement, but then I follow up in a PM to explain why. Those conversations are ALWAYS more productive. Just the fact that I’ve bothered to engage one-on-one seems to have an impact. It shows that someone is paying attention and leaves space for a more honest, respectful dialogue…even if it’s dissenting.

PMs are also great for supportive dialogue. Fear and anger are not helping right now, yet we’re scared and angry and need to process that with our friends. Get a group together in a PM setting that you can rage with, laugh with, cry with, share resources with, really dig in with. Put your memes mocking Trump there; bring all the exclamation points you want. Plot and strategize there. Channel your negativity there so it can be really heard and processed, and hopefully productively turned around. I suggest a group of at least six and probably no more than 30 people. They don’t all have to know each other super well, but try to base the group around some space(s) of shared trust — old college friends, former colleagues, etc. You want a diversity of experiences and (supportive) perspectives. Let that be your first port of call when you’re feeling emotional or reactive on FB.

Step 3 — Promote and Attend Events

Finally, FB is just a tool. The real work happens out in the world. Use FB events to coordinate people and also to show your FB friends the substantive action you’re taking. “Like” events, especially those involving your local elected officials (like their FB pages, too). Click “Going” or “Interested” when you see an event that looks worthwhile — even if you can’t make it. Follow groups that are popping up in your area, like those facilitated by Indivisible. Don’t overlook this really important opportunity to signal and organize.

Oh, one more thing. Always read your FB feed filtered with Most Recent first (not Top Stories). Eff off, echo chamber algorithms!

For what it’s worth, I’m committing to own the Urban-Coastal-Elite vs. Rural-Heartland-WorkingClass divide and Feminism/Gender Equality.

See you out there.