Three Levels of Resistance on Social Media
Starting from the simplest and building to the more involved…
First, Just the fact, Ma’am. Transform the power demonstrated by social media trolls into a positive force. Simply drop in a link to one of several respected factchecking sites (or an AP or Times or Post or Beacon Journal or Atlantic, etc article) into threads where the conversation needs a reality-check booster shot. Be cautious about relying on a meme or political cartoon (as much as I love these) or image too heavily here, because the point here is to inject facts into fact-free zones and memes rarely accomplish this.
At this simplest level: keep it simple. Just the facts. Do not drone on: one line or phrase and no more to go with your link. Do not call anyone names or label the president a liar…just insert a calm and level-headed statement of fact (that, when heard, will disrupt the alternative fact world more reliably when it is NOT presented with name-calling that sparks defensive resistance to facts).
Then, like a good posi-troll, do not stay in that thread. Move on and do not look back. Just drop in a fact or factual source and move on to another thread to do the same. For this simplest of tools, spending time arguing within the thread is less valuable than hitting many threads.
Second, Step into their shoes to (try to) persuade. We are angry and concerned, for good reason. But this does not relieve us from our obligation to think carefully. If we want to persuade someone likely very different from us, we need to reach out and be real. A recent short piece in The Atlantic provides useful guidance here.
If we want to persuade a conservative, it is important to think carefully about how we frame our comments. And be concise: an opponent will not read past one sentence, so make it good.
We are, for instance, more likely to be moved by arguments about the injustice and unfairness and harm-causing nature of the president’s Muslim ban. Whereas a conservative is more likely to be moved by moral arguments focusing on American traditions, patriotism, authority, religious sanctity, zero tolerance, accountability, purity, and loyalty.
Here you have to make a choice: do you return to the thread and engage? If you choose to do so, the strategy here is to stay on message: only post through the lens of the conservative values you started with, and consistently pound at the importance of these values as the lens for understanding this conflict.
Here is the illustration from The Atlantic, which is way too long (and written more to point us in the right direction than to actually persuade a conservative) but does help us envision how we might do this:
“These refugees and immigrants are just like our family members who came to America in years past to seek a better life. All our ancestors wanted was to live the American dream, and that’s why today’s immigrants and refugees have chosen to come to America, so they too can live that same American dream that brought our families here. That is the dream our nation was founded on, it is what brought our grandparents and great-grandparents to this great land, and it is the great success story that these immigrants want to be a part of.”
Third, Connect the dots. This is the most involved approach and since only concise posts have impact in social media, one of the core challenges here is to make an argument that works in this venue.
Mere factchecking (while valuable) did not prevent his election. Factchecking framed around conservative values is likely to be a bit more effective. But in both cases, these are episodic approaches that fail to connect one falsehood to the larger pattern of lies, half-truths, and diversions central to an effective bullshitter, huckster, authoritarian-capitalist, or fascist-populist.
At our most involved level, we want to try to connect otherwise fragmented daily news stories, and news cycles, to highlight what these taken as a whole mean for political communication and democratic decision making.
In the social media world, this is most likely best accomplished through a slight modification of the two levels above: rather than dropping in a fact or factual source with a concise comment, drop in an essay or editorial that connects the dots in ways that speak to conservative values and highlight this in your concise comment introducing the piece. When such an essay does not exist, write on your own blog and see instructions above for sharing on social media.
Just thinking out loud about how to effectively resist in vexing social media threads.