Is it possible to have good conversations on social media? I’m not so sure anymore.
The whole lot of yelling going on doesn’t seem helpful and I know I’m not the only one losing heart over our inability to engage each other meaningfully around important ideas and issues on which we might disagree.
Why is it so hard to talk on social media? Here are at least 5 reasons why.
1. Lack of Relationship
Whether the conversations are about carbon taxes, church strategies or the latest food allergies, they often rage between people who have no relationship with each other. Maybe it started between friends, but the threads were quickly dominated by folks who do not know or love or understand one another. And with the absence of relationship comes absence of nuance and caring and empathy. And the absence of fruitful conversation.
2. Missing Context
More than once I’ve witnessed a show down between two people who, if they had known each other’s context, would have been much more careful and thoughtful in their responses. But this comment or that bullet response didn’t allow for that, and eruptions followed. When I am in relationship with someone, I understand more of what’s behind the screen, and how I talk and respond and even challenge them changes as a result.
3. No Accountability
Perhaps nothing stands out more than how digital platforms create the illusion of anonymity, even if our names are posted right beside our comments! And with that illusion comes a lack of accountability. With our fingertips, we say things we will never be forced to back up (we can just log off!). There is no real way of holding to account someone’s ugly tirade or hateful comments, barring a little bit of shaming or blocking a certain user.
4. Little Trust
Another reason meaningful dialogue seems difficult is the lack of trust people have for each other. Given what we’ve said so far, it’s understandable–no relationship+no context+no accountability=very little trust. And yet in order for a true exchange of ideas to occur, especially important and conflicting ideas, we have to extend some benefit of the doubt to the other person. We can’t think they are just idiots. As others have taught us, such as Patrick Lencioni, trust is foundational to good conflict over important ideas. But I see very little trust on the platforms (and often for good reason).
5. Limited Time
This one may surprise you, but I think the fifth reason conversations are difficult online is that we are often engaging in an ongoing thread of debate or discussion while moving at disorienting speed. We are commenting on this political idea while holding a bag of nails at the hardware store, then sniping in on someone else’s parenting comment while our own kid is demanding lunch. We just haven’t slowed down enough to engage, and end up reading too fast, commenting too quickly, failing to understand the issues, unable to follow through and then wondering why everyone’s so upset. Some of these conversations just can’t be had within the time it takes to descend from the 4th floor of our office building.
So what do you think? Why is it so hard to have fruitful conversations on social media?