Facebook wars: When debating political crises on social media is harmful

Because the world feels overwhelming and unsafe, it is very hard to keep focus on the numerous conflicts happening

Emily Jardine

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Anyone with eyes can see that the world is changing. We are entering a time of political and civil unrest with demagogues leading powerful and influential countries in unpredictable and scary ways and although the chaos often feels far away, no one is safe from the realities of this dark new world.

In recent days, an ambassador has been assassinated in Turkey, Muslims have been shot in their house of faith in Zurich and Christmas revelers have been mowed down in a Berlin market. Add to this mix the rising tensions across the globe and the world feels overwhelmingly unsafe.

The Facebook Echo Chamber

Because the world feels overwhelming and unsafe, it is very hard to keep focus on the numerous conflicts happening. What is often easier is to put our heads in the sand, or what might be considered the modern equivalent, to retreat to our safe social media bubble.

What this means is that instead of using the World Wide Web to broaden our minds and connect with ideas that challenge our own and help us grow, we are instead using our Facebooks and Twitter to prove to ourselves that our ideas are right and that things are out of control because of the reasons we believe instead of the reasons that are.

Individuals, explains Christina Emba for The Washington Post, tend to “seek out information that strengthen[s] their preferred narratives and reject information that undermined it. Alarmingly, when deliberately false information was introduced into these echo chambers, it was absorbed and viewed as credible as long as it conformed with the primary narrative. And even when when more truthful information was introduced to correct or “debunk” falsehoods, either it was ignored or it reinforced the users’ false beliefs.”

What to do

The feeling of being overwhelmed is exhausting and frightening and while it may be easier to retreat into a bubble, this is actually the critical time when we must seek out and engage with ideas that differ from our own. But how do we do that in a way that broadens the collective mind and feeds back into more mutual understanding and compassion?

As Khaled Ghorab, Dubai-based Relationship Architect and international speaker explains, “in conversations of any kind of relationship whether it be friendships, romantic, social media, colleagues or so on, we must be able to leverage on deep curiosity. It is one of the most important basic ingredients that defines the experience of that kind of connection.”

It is curiosity and the desire to understand that must drive our conversations versus apathy or hostility. Says Ghorab, you should be curious about what they are saying, trying to say, and are not saying through words yet. Be curious about what makes that person believe in their opinion. As Tony Robbins says, ‘in order to influence people you have to know what influences them’.”

Sometimes the best advice is to take a step back and think of a conversation or a contradictory idea as a way to enhance ourselves. Say Gorab, “I always invite people to look at relationships like a cup of coffee: what we put in it defines its taste. So if people approach conversations, opinions, and new ideas without curiosity, they either fall into the ‘you're wrong, I am right’ frame of mind or ‘agree to disagree’ mindset. And frankly, that's not the kind of taste in our mouth that we want the coffee to leave.”

In fact, the best thing to do is to take a step back. “The outcomes of those conversations are to engage, connect, contribute, and grow. Instead of trying to align, it is wise to focus on how these aligned/conflicting ideas could grow all of us. If you don't like the whole idea, pick parts of it that are helpful to you. If you don't find anything, simply understand and appreciate other people's worlds,” says Gorab.

Our reaction to world is justified and often we feel helpless and without the ability to control it in the ways that we hope but it is within our power to start with small steps and engage with the ideas that we don’t understand. As Ghorab say, “to grow and contribute we must influence and be influenced.”

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