Sharing Your Opinions on the Internet

A few days after the attack in Orlando, a group of my fellow entrepreneurs were discussing what it’s reasonable to share on Facebook, Twitter, or our blogs regarding the events of the day. Being a non-confrontational, preferably non-controversial person, my default response is, quite frankly, don’t.

What can or should you say when bad things happen?

A lot of the people in the room had definite opinions about the situation, though it could have been any hot topic in the news–this one just happened to be recent and local to us, so the issue was looming large in our minds. So the question naturally came up: “What should we say?” As I’ve noted in a previous entry, anything you share on social media can reflect on your employer or, if you’re self-employed, on your personal “brand.” Say something blatantly polarizing, and you’re likely to win the affection of some of your readers and earn the enmity of others.

Being a pragmatist, my first thought would be to ask, “How important is it that your customers know where you stand on [X issue]?” Quite frankly, a lot of people don’t care. Your customers want to know how well you will work to support them.

If you feel you MUST speak…

If someone does enough digging on you and you’ve been writing on the internet, eventually people will learn a lot about you and your views on the world, from your favorite movies to how you vote. I take a very introverted, American view of such things: I don’t rightly care what you believe as long as you don’t force it on me or scream at me about it.

When something awful happens that affects the vast majority of citizens, directly or indirectly, it seems ridiculous to act as if nothing happened. Note, however, that the day after the mass shooting here, I posted a regular blog, one that I’d written a week or two previously and just posted at the usual date and time. Quite frankly, I wasn’t in any frame of mind to post something coherent. Writing this a week or so after the event, I can’t say I’m doing any better with it. I have a lot of thoughts and emotions racing around in my head, and quite frankly most people don’t want or need to hear them. A lot of my reactions fall into the category of “living room talk,” meaning I’d share them with aloud in the privacy of my own home rather than inflict them on coworkers, neighbors, or total strangers on the internet. Others have a different view.

Given that, here are some more pragmatic tips about how to share your thoughts on social media regarding political events of the day without putting your personal standing or your relationships with your customers in jeopardy:

  • Don’t use profanity, go off on a rant, or use blatantly offensive terms to describe people connected with a situation. You might be saying them behind your keyboard, but it’s really better not to commit them to the internet, which never forgets.
  • Explain your feelings rather than write in reaction to them (i.e., “I’m boiling mad…” or “I’m incredibly sad” vs. “I’m so mad I hope that so-and-so group gets what’s coming to them!”)
  • Share factual or reliable information about a situation, such as primary sources of information or news, as opposed to blogs with known slants.
  • Focus on the positive. This doesn’t mean putting on the rose-colored bifocals and pretending nothing bad happened. It does mean identifying/sharing a positive action you would suggest your readers do in response to the event. Example: “I know everyone feels like you need to do something, so I recommend you donate to [X cause] to prevent something like this from ever happening again.” Or suggest that people give blood or volunteer at a local relief organization. Or you could suggest people contribute to an organization or attend an event that supports the sort of outcome you’d rather see happen in the future. Or you could simply suggest that people pray/send supportive messages for victims of [X horrible situation]. This sort of appeal lets people know that you’re engaged, that you have a definite take on the situation, and that you’re thinking positively about how your community can move forward.
  • Tie your thoughts to your work in a meaningful way. This is another way of saying, don’t use X situation to as a blatant heart-tugger for making money. However, if by chance you work for an organization that specializes in combatting the exact sort of tragedy/disaster that just occurred, you shouldn’t just use the occasion as an excuse for more fundraising, but to explain exactly how any support you seek will be used to address immediate, concrete problems.
  • Write with your “corporate voice” in mind. Think about how a “responsible person” would respond and act accordingly. You might be a sad/angry/horrified human being reacting to anything from an accident to a natural disaster to an act of mass violence. There’s still an expectation that some folks act responsibly and speak with “the voice of reason.” If possible. Maybe a voice of reason isn’t possible, given the situation or your relationship to it. In that case…
  • Consider whether you should post something at all until you feel you can act on some of the advice above. Or talk it over with someone else and ask them to write for you.

As usual, these are suggestions. I’m most likely guilty of violating all of them. I’m human, go figure. We all get upset, often understandably. As with any situation, though, we have choices about what we do after our initial reactions. The week of June 12, I went to the local blood bank and kept my screaming and opinions confined to my living room.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
This entry was posted in advocacy, audience, blogging, clients, personal, philosophy, social media, workplace. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Sharing Your Opinions on the Internet

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    I used to scrupulously avoid expressing any but the blandest opinions on social media. I wanted to keep my personal brand focused on the professional part of my life, and I didn’t want to risk offending anyone.

    Over the last few years I’ve loosened up a lot. The older I get, the more I realize that I can’t keep silent about things I feel strongly about. However, both online and in person, I try to engage with people — not attack them or drown them out. I try to reason, not rant. In short, I find myself following the wise advise you’ve presented here.

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