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Dealing with social media crazies this election season: A how-to guide

Social media political torment seems to always begin with a friend from high school.

Social media political torment seems to always begin with a friend from high school.

One day you’re innocently clicking “like” on their party picture, and the next thing you know, this once-quiet-person-turned-Tea-Party-Republican is spouting off on: “Commie Obama taking away your guns” in your Facebook feed. Or it's the  person recycling Joe Biden Onion punchlines long after their sell-by date. Or maybe it’s a former co-worker blasting off a never-ending stream of petty tweets about a candidate’s personal appearance: Enough with the Paul Ryan/Eddie Munster hairline comparisons, guys..

Once upon a time, all you had to do to show your political allegiances was put a sign on your front lawn. Now thanks to Facebook, Twitter and the like, we can constantly broadcast our views—in all caps—for everyone to see. That can be a problem when you're on the receiving end of the barrage.

But social media watchers say it’s not rude to unfollow or unfriend someone if they become too politically painful to bear. In fact, it’s best for everyone.

“The ‘unsubscribe’ feature on Facebook is your friend, no doubt. Being able to unsubscribe to those with whom you disagree makes life a lot easier,” assured Peter Shankman, CEO of The Geek Factory, a social media strategy firm. “You don't need to un-friend, don't need to scream at them, just unsubscribe. You never have to see them.”

Facebook allow users to avoid the final leap of deleting or unfriending altogether. You can stay friends with someone, but opt out of their updates on the sly. Look for the “friends” button on their page, then go to “show in news feed” to adjust the sort of updates you want to receive. If you’re not a friend but a subscriber to someone’s Facebook feed, just hit “unsubscribe.” Everybody wins.

Twitter keeps it straightforward. If you’re having regrets, just unfollow someone by visiting their profile.

As for those doing the political broadcasting, they might want to learn to exercise a bit of self-control. “No one wants to feel berated by a stream of information about something they may disagree with or not like,” said Daniel Post Senning, author and great-great-grandson of the authority on manners and social etiquette, Emily Post. “Simply having the awareness that others might be negatively impacted by our actions should give us reason enough to moderate at least our tone and approach if not our fundamental beliefs or convictions when expressing our political opinions.”

Etiquette-wise, Senning argued we’re “socially not required” to tell anyone we’ve dropped their updates. While you don’t need to alert them, if a genuine bond exisits, he suggested “it’s not rude or impolite” to mention something.

The root of the problem might come down to self-awareness—a trait Shankman suggested many are lacking. “Most people aren’t self-aware enough to realize that just because they have 500 or a 1,000 friends, they all don’t think alike."

Don’t let you that stop you from going deep into political discussions. But it’s all about the approach. “It’s important for us to engage in public discourse and to invest time in the best ways to engage to bring some civility to our discourse, to make it a functional discourse,” said Senning.

He advised avoiding personal attacks, listening to your political foe as much as you’re yapping away about candidate X, and not being afraid to be give them the last word. “If you’re unwilling to argue, it’s hard to argue with you.”

You ultimately hold the power to choose how you want to engage this election season. It only takes one vote and one click of the mouse.