Etiquette of the online culture war

keyboardI thought I’d take a moment to talk about something that’s been bothering me lately. While I appreciate the public outcry over things like Chick-Fil-A’s “family-oriented” funding to fight equal marriage rights, I think there needs to be a level of decorum if we hope to achieve anything with the endless spam created over the internet. In light of this, I hope to offer some suggestions and words of wisdom garnered from my experience as a public affairs guy.

The very first thing you should do is check to make sure you’re not misunderstanding the thing you’re trying to make an argument against. Give people the benefit of the doubt and clarify what they mean before you go on the offensive. This also tells them that you genuinely want to have a civilized discussion rather than an internet flame war.

Once you’ve decided to make a point, make sure you know your audience. If your aim is to get through to people on the fence, or especially if you’re going for the gold of convincing right-wing social conservatives, perhaps starting off by insulting them is not the best course of action. A perfect case study of this is www.fckh8.com. While I love their first video in particular, their overall messaging is crude, confrontational and not generally helpful to the overall fight. Showing same-sex couples playing tonsil tennis and having little children dropping the f-bomb is probably not the best way to get through to someone who has a portrait of Jesus hanging up in their living room. However, in the case of FCKH8, their external branding seems to be targeted at the LGBT crowd to raise funds for capitol hill lobbying, which works to an extent. However, right-wingers could easily turn that messaging into an example of why our heathen ways will corrupt society as a whole.

Once you’ve determined your target audience, look at your arguments. Arguments that you don’t believe in the Bible and that it shouldn’t dictate your life will likely fall on deaf ears for a devout Christian. However, talking about how married gay couples could help give loving homes to orphans who might otherwise turn to the street, using drugs and committing crime, could actually strengthen your point. I generally try not to change people’s beliefs about themselves, but rather change their beliefs about me. It’s a subtle difference between “you’re wrong and this is why you’re wrong,” and “you may not have considered all the facts, please let me enlighten you to what it’s like from my end.”

Use credible resources. I generally don’t cite LGBT news agencies. They are heavily biased and generally go against the advice I’ve been giving here. Instead, if you find a story you really want to use, look to see if there is a less biased version somewhere else. This, too, helps enhance and solidify our readability. The Huffington Post is one of my favorite sources of LGBT news.

Also, don’t post in anger. If you find yourself fuming mad at something someone said, give yourself some time to cool down first. On the internet, it’s entirely too easy to be way meaner than you would be in person, especially if you’re an empathetic and emotional person like I am. Try to give the person the benefit of the doubt, especially in the sense that they probably didn’t mean to offend you in the first place.

A conversation is two-way. If you are in a comment thread discussion with another person and neither of you are willing to see the other person’s viewpoint and potentially change their own, then it’s not a conversation. It’s just two people yelling at their computer screens with no real benefit to anyone aside from letting off steam. It also makes the rest of us look bad.

Be honest. This should go without saying, but making up facts is the fastest way to lose credibility, and therefore the debate. Check your facts and again, and be willing to concede individual points if a valid reason is brought up.

Lastly, for the love of God, don’t stoop to name calling. We’re better than this, people. Calling a Christian organization a bigoted hate group is a bit of a stretch. At worst, they’re an inefficient, misguided, public welfare organization. Otherwise, they would have gone away a long time ago. Talk about what people and organizations have actually done rather than editorialized sound bites spewed from internet sources. This will also help drive more meaningful conversation since it doesn’t put people on the defensive.

Ultimately, the goal of conversation is to enrich understanding so we can move forward. So, next time you’re railing on someone for posting something even remotely anti-gay, consider what I’ve mentioned here before posting. When in doubt, talk to your local military Public Affairs or Legal office (or a friend for a reality check if you’re not in the military) and they should be able to help you respond to most politically sensitive issues.

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