Unless You’re a Masochist, Avoid Polarizing Social Media Engagement

A few decades ago when the political world was far more civil, I covered government and politics for a small newspaper in southern Indiana. It was a great job since I met and interviewed hundreds of elected officials and political candidates.

When it was time to move on, my two strongest references came from the Democratic and Republican county leaders—both of whom said they assumed I was a member of their parties. I was both surprised and flattered by their support and strong letters of recommendation.

Needless to say, politics were more genteel back then. Things considered nasty in the 1970s pale in comparison to the polarizing nature of politics today. Leaders eventually found bi-partisan common ground and things moved forward.

When I worked for the Speaker of the New York Assembly, I recall a bitter debate over the state budget that needed to be approved in 24 hours. Pointed rhetoric was being hurled on both sides of the aisle. Finally around 1 a.m., the Speaker announced a recess. He and the Minority Leader, who moments earlier were yelling at each other, walked out of the Capitol together and went straight to a favorite Albany bar. A few hours later, legislative staffs were awakened and told to report to work as soon as possible. We had a budget deal. While some might have credited Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff for the breakthrough, a logical, bi-partisan compromise deal was reached because both men knew they were working for the citizens of New York who would suffer if state services were shut down.

Today, it’s increasingly difficult to avoid the need to rant about politics. Compromise is nearly impossible to reach as too many politicians play to their bases. And the rise of social media has made it easier to do so. But please don’t.

While it might feel good to get it off your chest, realize what you share on Facebook and Twitter may affect prospects for your next job. Don’t get me wrong, I encourage political engagement—just avoid viral displays of anger and vitriol.

I cringe when friends, some of whom are in the job market, get so worked up that they drop the F-bomb almost daily on Twitter. And sometimes what they rant about turns out to be based on fake news from the increasing number of satirical “news” outlets that are the basis of their rage.

Besides friendship and family concerns, you need to think about your future career before you share what’s on your mind on social platforms. Keep it civil and factual. Try to look thoughtful and reasonable, even if you’re seething with anger.

Unless you’re applying for a political job, unsolicited sharing of political views won’t impress most hiring managers. Also know there is a strong probability that your social media footprint will be reviewed by prospective employers.

Don’t be lulled into the belief everyone agrees just because your online outburst got several likes. Many more won’t engage and very likely will simply roll their eyes and form contrary judgements.

As tempting as it is to join the political online soapbox, I try to count to 10 before pushing send. Doing so usually results in hitting the delete key.

Save your energy for the voting booth. It’s the only place where it really counts.  -RC

6 thoughts on “Unless You’re a Masochist, Avoid Polarizing Social Media Engagement

  1. Hello, my name is Caitlyn Bambrough and I’m a student at Southeast Missouri State University.

    I see where you said that you encourage political engagement, but later on said that most employers wouldn’t be too impressed by the sharing of political views on social media. Would you say it’s better for me to simply comment on a post or conversation that someone else started rather than posting one myself? Would the best thing be to keep my political views and opinions off of social media and keep them strictly in face-to-face conversations? Also, would you share the same opinion about other topics, such as religion?

    1. Key fact to remember: Social media arguments about politics changes no minds. But many people simply can’t resist playing Don Quixote. I admit to sometimes commenting on a friend’s political post, but I mostly simply hit the LIKE button if I am in agreement. Some of my favorite posts come from people who simply call attention to an interesting, legitimate news story–not editorializing or ranting about the issue. I consider that to be a service to busy friends, and doing so may better engage others in understanding an issue. Yes, same rule applies to religion.

  2. My name is Noah Niznik and I am a Public Relations Major at Southeast Missouri St. University and I found you article interesting and I picked up more information about social media engagement. With that being said, how deep into one’s social media profile would a business go when looking through a potential employee’s account? Also, if one were to get into a back and forth debate with minimal anger, could that possibly hurt their potential to land that job?

    1. It’s impossible to determine how deeply employers will review social media engagement of prospective employees. Fortunately, many don’t. But you never know how or when something will pop up–no matter how long ago it was posted. Back and forth debate isn’t normally an issue unless you’re demonstrating stubbornness or a closed mind. Some folks insist on having the last word so the discussion can turn hostile. I subscribe to the routine of one comment and perhaps one build-on, but then it is time to move on.

  3. My name is Jacob Eisenkramer and I am studying Public Relations at Southeast Missouri State University.

    If I may ask, with a few recent stories about a Bernie staffer with a private twitter account(whose tweets could not be viewed), and Mitt Romney having a secret twitter account. Is there any reason to have an private account or is better kept to a single professional account?

    1. As an admirer of Mitt Romney, I regretted hearing that he was using a phony Twitter account. If you tweet, don’t hide behind a fake name. Only use a private Twitter account if you only want it to be for personal use. But don’t then follow people outside of your network of friends. It irks me when I get new followers and can’t follow the person back without their permission. If you don’t intend to tweet but are required to do so by a professor, then a personal account is entirely appropriate.

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