As you’re probably aware, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, yesterday and today are important days in the US Supreme Court – yesterday, the Justices heard oral arguments in the challenge to California’s ban on same-sex marriage, while today, the Justices will be hearing arguments about the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
My Facebook feed, as I’m sure is true for many others, has been full of profile photo changes to an equals sign, on a red background, in support of same-sex marriage, and status updates relating a connection’s thoughts, one way or the other.
I, too, have very strong opinions on the subject, along with a number of other hot-button social and political issues. But you won’t see me changing my profile photo any time soon, or adding my two cents. Why not?
Whenever there’s an issue that people have strong opinions on, there’s a very real possibility that you’ll alienate someone – in this case, 58% of Americans have indicated that they’re in favor of same-sex marriage, which means that 42% are not.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that my list of Facebook friends is a microcosm of the US (not at all accurate, since I have a number of international friends, but bear with me). I have 328 friends on Facebook. If we apply the above percentages to that number, about 190 of them would be in support of same-sex marriage, while 138 of them would not.
In that list, I have 21 clients, 49 professional connections, and 1 client of a client. Unless they tell me (and even then), I have no idea which side of the issue they come down on. So if I express my opinion, I run the risk of alienating them – as we all know, people do business with those they know, like and trust, and my thoughts on the subject may very well cause someone to like me less. Even if they’re in agreement with me, the way that I express myself may turn them off to doing business with me.
The nature of my organization and position within it means that my personal behavior and opinions are very much wrapped up in my professional standing. While this won’t be true for everyone (and in many cases, people restrict their Facebook connections to only those people that they have personal friendships with), for me, I need to be very careful about what I share and how I share it, on Facebook as well as my other social media channels.
Facebook makes it easy to believe that you need to share everything you’re thinking and feeling – and it’s tempting to get caught up in the fervor of discussing something when you think "everyone" in your friends list is talking about it. In my case, I started to think almost everyone in my friends list on Facebook had a certain opinion yesterday and I wanted to chime in badly…but in truth, when I looked at the numbers, only 11% (or 35 people) in my friends list mentioned it at all.
In fact, I’m equally reticent to have face to face discussions with people on political and social issues – my close friends know where I stand on various issues, but I keep that information close to the vest because I want it to have no bearing on how people see me professionally.
So you won’t see me commenting one way or the other on my Facebook page (or on other social media channels). For me, the lesson isn’t necessarily to never share your political and social views – for some people that works well, and is a big part of who they are. The message is more to be thoughtful in your social media posts – so I’ll leave you with some suggestions:
- Know your audience: for me, discussing political and social opinions wouldn’t be beneficial, so I don’t do it. For others, there will be different kinds of hot button issues to keep quiet about.
- Think before you share: early on in the day yesterday, so many profile photo changes gave me the false belief that everyone in my friends list felt a certain way. But when I stopped to consider the numbers, and look at how many of my professional connections were sharing their opinions, I realized it wasn’t as prevalent as I’d thought. If I’d jumped in right away with my opinion, I might have upset people. Upon further consideration, I realized that I didn’t need to share my thoughts. This doesn’t just apply to political and social conversations, but also to rushing to complain about your job or a colleague, offering a passive aggressive comment that hints at a friend’s behavior, and more. It’s advisable to give something [at least] a few minutes’ thought before posting it to make sure that it’s the message you really want people to see and associate with you.
- Sleep on it: In line with my above point, sometimes, you want to sleep on it. Facebook and other social media have made many of us believe that we need to jump into the conversation RIGHTNOW to make sure our voices are heard. But while you can always decide to post something later, you can never take something back once it’s out there.
- Things live on the internet forever: Facebook’s strenuous privacy settings can give us the false sense of security that our deepest thoughts and feelings are private, shared only with those people we allow in our inner circle. But is that strictly true? With Facebook allowing friends to share almost anything you post (and even if the button isn’t there, copy and paste works incredibly well), nothing you post is truly private. Anyone who’s read a story where someone said something stupid on Twitter, but promptly deleted it, only to learn that someone else took a screen capture of it knows that the danger that something will go viral is very real.
So as we all watch the Supreme Court with interest, keep in mind that what you say on social media can have a lasting impact – the statuses and photos that have garnered the most interest from my connections are never the ones I expect – so post thoughtfully!