Social media not the place for debate

Controversial issues prove better discussed in person rather than post

Scrolling through Facebook and Twitter brings me through streams of selfies, ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos and random posts about life. Social media has been said to create spaces for people to bring up and discuss just about anything.

But a recent Pew Research Center study reveals certain topics are out of bounds for some friends and followers.

The study of 1,801 U.S. adults found people were, in general, more willing to discuss controversial social issues in person than on social media. It also found social media does not create a space for people to discuss these topics if they wouldn’t talk about them otherwise. It focused on the topic of  Edward Snowden’s 2013  disclosure of  government surveillance of Americans’ phone and email records.

The research is a shining demonstration of  human nature’s preference to debate a subject face to face, rather than through a screen. Debates are better suited for in-person interaction.

I’m not saying a person should never share their opinions about something that matters to them. By all means, make your voice heard if it is for the benefit of a cause.

However, creating a long train of comments or a frenzy on Twitter picking apart a person’s position is not a good idea.

One of the potential reasons people agree with this is the “spiral of silence.” Pew Research Center describes the terms as the “tendency of people not to speak up … when they believe their own point of view is not widely shared.”   

Social media is intended to connect people and bring them together. When people have differing views, conflict can arise. People might not always feel compelled to share their dissenting opinions when they’re trying to maintain friendships.

Yet it’s important to remember because Facebook and Twitter are very different, the amount of discussion about controversial issues varies on each.

In a recent USA Today article, Laura Mandaro suggested the talk surrounding Michael Brown in the Ferguson, Mo., shooting was more prevalent on Facebook than Twitter.

The article goes on to speculate this is because the nature of Facebook commenting does not always spur a person on to disagree with another acquaintance. Twitter, on the other hand, encourages more activism and places focus on the hype surrounding popular news stories.

Although these platforms are different, both Facebook and Twitter are modes of digital communication. As such, they have drawbacks to making clear a point of view. People can easily cause misunderstandings in the short, non-descriptive language of tweets and posts.

If I feel like reading a thread of comments on Facebook about a certain issue, for example, I usually have a hard time following exactly what the writers are saying. Tweets can be taken out of the intended context as well.

Even if a reaction about a controversial social issue makes perfect sense, people still might not want to hear it on social media. They might simply want to use social media to see what is happening in others’ lives and in the world.

Facebook and Twitter can be good places to find news articles and videos. But after hearing about a controversial subject, it may just be better to turn to a friend to discuss it instead of powering on your device.