Why I Stopped Arguing Politics on Social Media
I realized my online rants were toxic, unhealthy, and unhelpful
Politically, I used to be “that guy.” In high school, I competed in public forum debate at the national level, I was outspoken in class on matters of public policy, and I won several thousand dollars in scholarship money for essay contests and public speaking competitions, all of which concerned some political issue (like foreign policy or the sanctity of the First Amendment).
I was an arts major in college, but my argumentative drive didn’t go away, and social media provided an opportunity to channel it. I started an argument I knew I could win on every political post. I dropped friends like flies. I spent hours doing this on Facebook, often exchanging hundreds of comments with people on a single post. It became so rampant that someone I graduated with once posted, “The best part of my news feed is watching Therin annihilate people for their politics.” I relished in the feeling of declaring victory over my opponent not by changing their mind, but by making them look dumb.
Although I take complete responsibility for my actions, in some ways I think this behavior is exactly what competitive debate and call-out culture trained me to do. The purpose of argument, it seemed, wasn’t to engage in a mutually constructive conversation, to deepen my understanding of an issue or the people on the other side of it. It was more like a video game, where the goal was to collect as many gold coins as possible, in the form of likes and shares, which were only granted each time I intellectually humiliated someone. It was toxic, unhealthy, and achieved precisely nothing, save for bolstering an ego that didn’t need it.
This year, however, I decided it was time to quit. I’d argued, ranted, and raved from Obergefell v. Hodges to the Black Lives Matter movement, through the 2016 election up to the Kavanaugh hearings. I argued about abortion, immigration, single-payer health care, gun control, the minimum wage, and everything in between. I must have lost over 100 Facebook friends and was blocked by no fewer than three family members. In addition to social media, I wrote a political opinion column for my university’s student newspaper, most of which was intentionally inflammatory—so…