Like past election seasons, popular memes chiding those who post political articles and comments are currently circulating on Facebook and other social media sites. There are several variations of the memes, but all have the same overall point: no one changes their mind because of political posts on social media.
Except people do change their minds because of political posts they see on social media.
Of course, political posts can be annoying; there’s no denying that. In fact, on some days, I’ll change that “can be” to “are.” That truth, however, does not mean that political posts don’t play a role in helping people form or reform their opinions. I know this to be true both anecdotally and because of the very nature of dialogue.
Having a writing job, especially during an election season, means that I post about politics on my social media sites more frequently than most of my other friends. And I’m sure that many of my friends are fairly sick of the seemingly never-ending stream of politics oozing from my Facebook wall. I’m sure of this, because some of them have told me that they’re sick of my political posts. Which is fine; there are days when I agree with them. Many other friends, however, have told me that something that I posted caused them to reevaluate an opinion and then alter that opinion.
Now, lest there be any misunderstanding, I am under no delusion (ok, maybe a little) that my thoughts and expressions of opinions are a frequent contributor to the changing of minds. Evidence, however, does point to the reality that from time to time a political post that I’ve shared or have even written has contributed, at the least, to the shifting of opinions. Further, I know from my own experience that articles and comments shared by my friends have played a role in the formation of my politics.
To be clear, my opinion is rarely changed all at once. I can’t remember a single moment when I read an article and immediately did a 180 in my mind. Usually, opinions are changed incrementally, and that’s how dialogue normally works.
Face to face conversations rarely end with one of the participants conceding that he or she “lost the argument,” much less a participant affirming having suddenly and definitely altered an opinion. One caveat to this is if the participants have been engaged in the same conversation on and off over an extended period of time. If that’s the case, then sure, there are times when people do “suddenly” alter their opinion. But that caveat essentially proves my point. While not in reference to politics, a friend’s comments to me about a recent article of mine serves as an illustration of how dialogue works.
While discussing the writing of my article about Celebration of Life services, my friend nodded in agreement with my assertions, and then added, “I’ve always been troubled by our culture’s celebration of death. Halloween and The Walking Dead, for example.”
Well, my kids enjoy Halloween and I love The Walking Dead, so I immediately interrupted him and pointed out the ways in which I disagreed with his choice of examples. After a brief, friendly back-and-forth, the subject was changed. Several days later, I find myself mulling over his comments. More importantly, I find that my rejoinders to him are beginning to show cracks. If I have another discussion with him about it, chances are, those cracks will widen. After enough conversations and enough thought on my part, the cracks may very well tear apart my arguments and cause me to change my opinion.
Political posts on social media work in much the same way as face-to-face conversations. While the necessary amount of time and engagement are going to vary, people do change their opinions based on Facebook posts. To suggest otherwise is to deny that dialogue even works. My sense is that the memes are merely people expressing their distaste with politics on social media, or just in general. However, just because you don’t like seeing political posts in your newsfeed doesn’t mean that people’s opinions aren’t being changed. But hey, who knows. Maybe if I see enough of the memes, I’ll change my mind about the usefulness of political posts.