By Kalli Damschen, Baylor University
Think twice before clicking the unfriend button this year.
While it may be beneficial to unfriend people you do not really care to keep up with or who have a toxic online presence, a Baylor University professor urges people to consider how social media can aid in reconciliation, bringing together diverse groups of people and ideas—especially in the wake of a contentious presidential election.
Mia Moody-Ramirez, Ph.D., associate professor of journalism, public relations and new media, said the policing of opinion on social media – unfriending people – can limit people’s exposure to diverse thoughts and opinions.
“Don’t unfriend someone just because your viewpoints are different, if they happen to be a Republican and you’re a Democrat or vice versa,” Moody-Ramirez said. “That’s not enough.”
Moody-Ramirez argued that staying friends with people in spite of differing viewpoints can aid in reconciliation, or the bringing together of individuals or groups that had been separated.
“Reconciliation, first of all, means that there is some kind of break in the relationship,” Moody-Ramirez said. “It can be a relationship between two people, or it can be a relationship between groups of people. Maybe there’s not a direct argument between members of these groups, but it’s just because of historical occurrences that have caused these groups to separate. Reconciliation is bringing those groups together, having them spend time together and get to know each other better.”
This sort of reconciliation is not easy but requires a concerted effort, Moody-Ramirez said.
“It’s very difficult because people are set in their ways, and it’s difficult to change people’s viewpoints, but sometimes in making comments to certain posts or in remaining friends with people and having them read their posts, you never know,” Moody-Ramirez said. “Maybe you can make a difference.”
Posts on social media are often more divisive than reconciliatory, however. Moody-Ramirez attributes this divisiveness to the anonymity available online and to platforms that encourage people to speak their minds.
“What you most often see is divisiveness on social media because you see people who share their ideas, and people are very opinionated,” Moody-Ramirez said.
While it’s not necessary to unfriend someone because they’re opinionated, cyberbullying and hate speech are two examples of online behaviors that might necessitate unfriending someone online or even reporting the behavior to Facebook.
“Hate speech would be comments against underrepresented groups such as women, minorities or persons with disabilities. When people start making those types of comments, that’s where you might draw the line,” Moody-Ramirez said.
Moody-Ramirez shared two tips for managing your social media account in a way that benefits reconciliation:
- Be genuine.
- Be considerate.
She said if you feel strongly about something but are not certain whether it is appropriate, it’s good to wait 24 hours before making the final decision.
“You have to be cognizant that what you post can have an influence on the lives of others,” she said.