Something major happened during the 2008 election year. Okay, so a lot of major things happened that year, but I’m referring specifically to the openness in which people proclaimed their political alignments and sparked conversations (arguments) with those who disagreed with them.
Once upon a time there were three topics you didn’t discuss at work or amongst company you weren’t close with: politics, sex, and religion. You didn’t discuss these things because you never knew who could be offended, but not say anything about it. There was a time and place to bring up these issues, and they did not include the latest staff meeting or family reunion with those cousins you only get to see once every three years. It feels likes these boundaries have been broken over the last half a dozen years or so.
I partially blame social networking. For all of the fantastic benefits of being able to stay in touch with friends and families via electronic devices, Facebook and its relative platforms have also done a great job at allowing the majority to gang up on the minority when it comes to certain discussions. Not only that, but these platforms often invite us to openly proclaim our political alliances, in black and white, when we might not always strictly agree with one party or candidate on all of the issues. However, when you look at our profile page, it might look like we do. I’ve often had friends and family assume I support certain things, or am against certain things or candidates based on what I’ve placed on my profile. The real world is more complex than what we are limited to label ourselves as.
More than social networking, I blame televised media. A lot of the news networks report on political elections and issues in the same manner they report on sports. How often have you heard “Team Romney” vs. “Team Obama”? How about use of the terms “points,” “winner,” “loser,” “defense,” “score,” “offense,” etc? in an effort to get people to watch THEIR network versus the competition, the reporting has become more and more sensationalized, to the point of using war vocabulary such as “fight,” “battle,” and “war on [insert guns, women, drugs, religion, etc here.]” I’m reminded of how spoiled I have gotten listening to NPR and reading newspapers for most of my information when I watch just a few minutes of the commentary after the presidential debates by the media pundits following. After about 30 seconds I can’t stand it anymore and have to switch them off.
So with the media molding the latest political race into a sports-like-arena, more people are treating the elections like last night’s football game and bringing it up in polite company. Likewise, I notice several small businesses owners jumping in the mix and posting their opinions via Facebook and Twitter, hoping to somehow convince their fans to jump on board their team with a meme image and oh-so-not-clever caption accompanying it. Is this really a smart decision on their part?
Before you start to promote your personal political preferences via the platform you’ve build your business on, I urge you to consider the consequences of doing so.
First of all: who might you be offending? If you concretely believe that your target audience does not include these people, then feel free to post. But be aware of the listeners you might be losing until you are completely sure that is not the case.
Secondly: are you being respectful? I’m happy to engage in a political debate as long s the person on the other end is as respectful of my opinion as I am of theirs. As soon as name-calling such as “bigot,” “idiot,” or “kool-aid drinker” start being used, there is nothing to be gleaned from the conversation and it only becomes destructive.
Finally: choose the causes you champion wisely. It’s one thing to promote your support for something (or against something) via your personal Facebook profile to the friends and family you know in person, and yet another via your Facebook Page to those who don’t have the benefit of discussing the issues with you in person. If you feel like you simply HAVE to champion a specific cause from your business platforms, make sure it aligns with enough of your followers beliefs to gain support. Being blocked, unsubscribed from, and un-friended won’t help your business OR your cause, and should always be handled delicately.
With the election being just a few short days away, I felt this post to be an appropriate reminder for all of us to tread carefully, and more importantly, respectfully.