How to Handle Political Bullying on Facebook

Discover how to respond to cringe-worthy posts on social media

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Everyone has one - that Facebook friend that posts obnoxious, and sometimes offensive, political statements, articles, memes and more every day, multiple times a day. You know - that friend that has a strong opinion about anything and everything political. Even if you agree with her political views, you cringe at the inflammatory way she states her opinions.

If you find yourself in this situation, you are not alone.

In fact, unfriending someone for their political views is fairly common. According to a study by Pew Research Center, nearly 20 percent of social media users have blocked, unfriended or hidden someone because of their political posts online.

This fact should not be surprising. Civility in politics has been decreasing for a long time and people are losing patience with the rhetoric. Much of this increase in online bullying, shaming and political bullying has to do with the changing culture and the ability to insult others on the Internet. These insults are often made through the use of blogs, social media and more. Consequently, it is not surprising that people have become much freer with their use of words. This has become painfully apparent in recent years as religious and political disagreements become more and more volatile. And while many people have embraced the freedom that social media provides, just as many are simply fed up.

A Closer Look at the Political Bullying in the 2016 Election

In the 2016 election, both candidates engaged in name-calling and other bullying tactics. For instance, Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, called people who supported Republican presidential nominee, "deplorables," and said they were irredeemable.

 Meanwhile, Trump labeled Clinton a "nasty woman" and referred to her as "Crooked Hillary."

Even the supporters of each candidate engaged in bullying tactics. On social media, Clinton supporters shamed Trump supporters by calling them racists, homophobes, xenophobes and a variety of other labels. On the Republican side of things, supporters yelled "build that wall," and chanted "lock her up" at rallies and posted similar sentiments online.

There is no doubt that the campaigning and debates in 2016 ignited tempers unlike any other presidential race has done. And while there has always been some mudslinging during elections, the 2016 election was much more volatile, much more personal. Many believe that the passionate disagreements were far more prevalent because of the ease and influence of social media. What's more, social media empowers people to say things that they would never say to someone's face. Much of this has to do with the fact that they can hide behind a computer screen.

As a result, during the election season people on social media were not just ranting about how much they disliked the candidates, but they often took it a step further.

They also ranted about how much they disliked anyone who might support an opposing candidate often engaging in name-calling, shaming, labeling and sometimes even threats of violence.  It was cyberbullying at its worst.

And while most would argue that people have a right to speak their mind, is bullying through social media really free speech? Most would argue that in some ways the mean-spirited posts, the labeling and the name-calling actually silences free speech. As a result, people are afraid to be honest about what they really think for fear of being judged or labeled.

Additionally, when people do not talk about their views or why they believe a certain way, they start to make assumptions about what other people believe. This often causes them to believe that they are being judged. They also assume that people are displeased with them or disagree with them. Yet, they have never talked about what they truly believe nor have they asked why their friends believe the way that they do. As a result, there is a lot of hostility and frustration based solely on assumptions.

Tips for Dealing with Obnoxious and Bullying Political Posts

If you are someone that would rather see posts about a person's dinner than her monologue about a political candidate, here are some sure-fire ways to navigate the lack of digital etiquette on Facebook without losing your sanity.

Take a minute. When it comes to social media, it is easy to fire off a response before you really think about it. Resist the urge to react instead of respond. Slow down and take a minute. Scroll past the post and read something else. The goal is to avoid posting something equally inflammatory and then later regretting it. Remember, even if you delete your comment later, you can never truly make it go away. So put on the brakes. A thoughtful response, or even no response at all, is a much better approach in the long run.

Ask why. If you do not understand why a friend feels so strongly, ask her. Find out how this impacts her life. Sometimes it helps to view the world through a different lens. Not only does it allow for greater understanding, but it also broadens your own perspective. Just be sure to ask in a way that doesn't put your friend on the defensive. You don't want her to feel like she has to justify her feelings to you. Instead, keep the focus on the issues. Additionally, it might be best to have this type of conversation offline and in person. This way, you can actually see the emotions she is expressing rather than trying to assume you know by interpreting her words. A lot of interpretation is lost online. It is risky to assume you know what someone is feeling when all you have to go on are a few typed words.

Ignore, scan or move on. Sometimes the best way to deal with cringe-worthy political posts is to simply scan through them and move on, especially if the post is simply a rant laced with name-calling and labeling. An even better option is to ignore them all together. Remember, you cannot control what your Facebook friend posts online. And you probably won't be able to change her mind or even get her to see your side of things. But you can control how you respond. And if reading her posts irritates you, ruins your day or causes you anxiety, then it is healthier for you to ignore them. Do not allow another person's blanket bullying statements impact you and your day.

Utilize the hide or block options. Fortunately, Facebook offers some options for dealing with the deluge of political bullying that takes place online. One option is to "hide" your friend. With this option, you remain friends but you no longer see her posts in your newsfeed. A lot of people appreciate this option because they do not want the drama of unfriending someone online, but they also do not want to see their blatantly inappropriate posts any longer either. Of course, the other option is to unfriend the person and even block her from friending you again. This option should only be used in extreme cases where you no longer hope to have contact or a relationship with the person. It is very hard to salvage a friendship once you have unfriended or blocked them on Facebook.

Remember who you are dealing with. If you are friends with this person online, chances are you have some sort of relationship with the person. So when you see something that is unsettling, take a step back and look at the big picture. Is your friend going through a tough time right now? Could these political posts have something to do with a bigger issue in her life? Try to be empathetic and remember why you are friends with this person in the first place. However, if your friend's political views define who she is as a person and it gets under your skin, you have some evaluating to do. Is this person a toxic friend that you should avoid, or is her friendship worth an effort?

Set some limits. If you find yourself getting too worked up about other people's political posts and subtle bullying online, it might be a good idea to take a break. You need to protect yourself from the negative feelings these posts create in you. As a result, you may want to limit the time you spend on Facebook or take a break from it all together. Or maybe the answer is to avoid engaging in any political discussions online. If you find that you absolutely have to say something in response to all the negativity online, consider journaling your responses but then never posting them. In this way, you have released your frustration by formulating a response, but you have not offended anyone, or ticked off your employer, by actually posting it.

Check your answers. Remember, there are a lot of unsubstantiated articles and information online. Make sure that if you do post a response to a political post, that your post is factual and can be verified. You don't want to contribute to the plethora of misinformation that is floating around on Facebook. Make sure that what you post is factual, accurate and not offensive. Keep in mind, that your goal should become a conscientious poster and not just someone who shares sensationalized stories because of their shock value. The last thing you want to do is become just like your obnoxiously-political friend. After all, you need to protect your online reputation.

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