My political posts on facebook will never change your mind

Why you don’t need to feel guilty about preferring cat memes to political posts online.

Thais Ramos Varela

Has everyone else’s facebook feed become significantly more political recently, or is it only mine? It makes for a less pleasant experience, and I’ll openly admit that I scroll past every pro/anti-Trump article. I use social media to interact with friends, see pictures of babies, and laugh at hilarious cat-based memes; occasionally I’ll even tolerate a picture of food or indulge in an inspirational quote. All the political posts are basically filler that I have to skip past, but even so, the emotional tenor of the posts leaps out from the computer screen and unsettles me, so I don’t emerge unscathed. These political posts shout in a crude way that all my beliefs are wrong. Even the ones I agree with are uncomfortably aggressive in denouncing those who don’t. Furthermore, I have never, ever changed my mind about any political belief based on a facebook post.

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If you’re like me, breathe a sigh of relief and don’t feel guilty about being close-minded. We’re not alone. Emily Glover at Paste Magazine recently wrote about a study that shows people are highly unlikely to change their political views based on social media. There’s a reason for this. Jonas Kaplan, assistant research professor of psychology at the Brain and Creativity Institute, says, “Political beliefs are tied into our identities. Our sense of who we are.” This is true of politics in a way that it isn’t true of other, more generic topics. We are more likely to change our minds about a scientific or historical fact, even if it challenges a long-held belief.

My theory? I am willing to change my mind on a topic that I find non-threatening to my personal identity. For instance, most of us were taught that Guglielmo Marconi invented the radio. He did not, in fact, invent the radio. A man named Nikola Tesla did. That sentence may not have immediately convinced you, but I bet you’re at least considering it.

Our political beliefs are part of our personal identity, so it makes sense that if we are discussing politics, we need to know and trust the person who is challenging us to think differently. Changing even a little bit of our core identity requires a lot more personal investment that simply scanning the headline of a facebook link.

Another way to phrase it might be that other people don’t really care that I love, say, the abstract idea of “saving babies” by posting a link to an article about abortion. They’re also unconvinced by my pro-life memes and hashtags. What my friends actually care about is how I treat a real, living mother and baby. I sometimes wonder, do I “love the poor” or will I actually show up at the food pantry and meet a person in personal need. This is the sort of commitment that might actually change minds about the causes that I believe in, because they see that my life is entwined with my beliefs.

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Social media is a blast, but online political conversations aren’t for everyone, and may be nothing more than whistling into the wind. At best they’re preaching to the choir, but if we take the time to let our beliefs speak through our lives and show we truly care, we never know who might be listening.

Fr. Michael Rennier
Fr. Michael Rennier

Fr. Michael Rennier graduated from Yale Divinity School and lives in St. Louis, Missouri with his wife and 5 children. He is an ordained Catholic priest through the Pastoral Provision for former Episcopal clergymen that was created by Pope St. John Paul II. He’s also a contributing editor at Dappled Things, a journal dedicated to the written and visual arts.

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