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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

How to Deal with Election Results on Facebook

One Mike Birbiglia offers, what is probably, the best advice for using social media after this election:
"What I should have said was nothing."
Sure you can delete a status or comment, but people will still see it. Whether you think it's good or bad, when you express your raw emotions online, there's a good chance that it will go poorly.

I think the emotional release of social media might be its most tempting and damaging aspect. We all feel emotions in response to events. We celebrate when we perceive things are good. We grieve when we perceive things are bad. We're angry when we perceive things are unjust. This is good and normal. We're emotional people and our emotions help us to process life.

The problem comes when we don't use emotions as a tool to help us process, but instead just air them in public.

See, if someone makes me mad I can process the emotions in private, vent to my wife, think about what I'm going to say and then go and confront (or not) them. That's typically a healthy way to let emotions be a part of the process of life. They alert us to a need and motivate us to address it. If the need is justice, the anger helps to motivate us to act.

But, emotions by themselves can be damaging when they aren't a part of a process that looks at the purpose and the desired outcome. If you're mad right now, you might not be able to think about what you'd like to change or why you want to make the change. But through the process of talking about it and reflecting (and cooling off), you can figure out those things and make some productive steps.

Facebook, and other social media, tend to remove the processing time and give people the chance to just vent their emotions. What was once a private action is now in public. What was once a preliminary step toward purposeful activity is now the end.

I'm glad that people feel strongly. I want to embrace and use our emotions, not avoid them. But jumping the gun and just cutting loose with emotional outbursts isn't the right answer.

Look at your Facebook feed today. If it's like mine it probably has about equal numbers of people complaining about the election results and celebrating them. Those emotional reactions are natural but, in this case, not helpful.

More than that, the people who jump in to say, "Don't worry" or "God is in control" or "Keep calm and carry on" aren't adding anything either. Instead the din of emotional outbursts is increased. People's emotions are made to seem invalid and everyone feels the need to turn up the volume.

So for today, I'm not going to say anything about the election. That may seem weird because I've been creating some great dialog leading up to the election, but the heightened emotional state right now is antithetical to dialog.

Maybe, before you post that tirade, celebration or pious chastisement you should stop and decide if it would be better to just say nothing.

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