Hey Elderly Aunt, is it possible to engage about politics on social media without drowning in a cesspool of hate and lies?

Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to harrisonburgcitizen@gmail.com with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions). 

Hey Elderly Aunt: Is it possible to engage with others in a meaningful way on social media — especially about politics — or are such discussions just by their (and our own) nature destined to descend into cesspools of hate, lies, name calling and anonymous trolling?

elderly_auntRTlogoCivil Discourse and Social Media. The Elderly Aunt does wonder how many dissertations are currently underway on that subject. And how many of them will conclude that, thanks to social media, we are living in a post-civility age and there is no going back?

Well phooey on that! No way does the Elderly Aunt think that diving into any sort of verbal cesspool is anything but personal choice.  There is nothing inherent in any social media post—including presidential tweets—that compels us to engage stinkily with someone else’s stinky verbiage.

The Elderly Aunt suggests we consider the obvious: Social media has unleashed a very rough beast inside each of us who participates. I don’t know how you experience it, but the Elderly Aunt’s rough beast whispers seductively to her baser self—the self of ego, pride, arrogance, pomposity and reactive anger—that she can at last command the audience she deserves!She no longer has to content herself with muttering to her cat when she’s outraged or annoyed or convinced of her own righteous rightness in the face of someone else’s obvious wrong-headed wrongness. Move over presidents. The bully pulpit is the Elderly Aunt’s for the taking! She can e-shout her thoughts, one-sided opinions and inflamed reactions about anything and everything to her hundreds of followers and friends. (Or millions if she gets lucky and triggers the kind of cascading outrage that fuels social media viral-it.)

Speed dating is out! the rough beast opines. Speed social media celebrity is in!

Given this rough beast business, it may surprise you to learn that the Elderly Aunt is quite the fan of social media. She uses it not only to keep up with her many friends and post pictures of her cat, but also to discuss politics and world affairs.

As to your cesspool worries, dear reader…

As society changes, so do our psychological disorders and our addictions of choice. Social media use has certainly begun to come under Learned Scrutiny. But who needs to wait for Learned Scrutiny’s Learned Conclusions? It is as obvious to the Elderly Aunt as the adorableness of her aforementioned cat that a great many social media posters today exhibit symptoms of what she identifies to herself (and her many dear readers) as Reactive Social Media Posting Disorder.

Those suffering from RSMPD rely on social media to deliver hits of their drug of choice—a momentary heightened sense of their own superiority, power, intelligence and wit—in much the same way a crackhead relies on a pipe. And like any addict, no matter how many reactive hits of their drug of choice they get, RSMPDers compulsively and desperately crave more.

The thing to remember, dear reader, is RSMPDer’s bottomless need for e-attention is their problem, not yours. RSMPDers certainly talk loudly, but they carry the soft stick of loud-mouthed idiocy. And like anyone in the throes of an active addiction, they are not happy campers.

The thing we must do is never enable their addiction by idiotically responding to their posts in kind. We decide the acceptable boundaries for posting in the threads we generate, and if a cesspool habitué shows up and starts slinging personal remarks and ill-sourced political assertions, we remind them of these boundaries. And if they fail to respect them, we block them. Life is too short to clutter our brains with RSMPDer’s idiocy.

With respect, dear reader, the Elderly Aunt does wonder if you might not be a tiny bit worried that you, yourself, could succumb to the seductive whisperings of your own inner rough beast. Surely, it whispers, one tiny hit of reciprocal outrage wouldn’t matter?

This is certainly a reasonable concern as even the Elderly Aunt must maintain constant vigilance against her own beast’s whisperings. But she knows full, dear reader—as do you—that   anyreciprocal outrage on our parts lands us on the slippery slope of RSMPD.As the Elderly Aunt sees it, she cannot control the postings of others, but neither does she have to spend her own time and energy digging in a social media weed patch with idiots. RSMPDers only have as much power to mess with her head as she gives them.

The Elderly Aunt is happy to report that she has had many a thought-provoking interchange on her own social media sites. Left, right, center — all have things to say, and all say them civilly.

The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday.  And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”

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