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How to Avoid Political Arguments on Facebook

It’s that time of year: time to see family and friends, to catch up on what everyone’s been doing this past year, and to remember why it is you see Cousin Joe only once a year because, oh lord, there he goes again, spouting off about politics, and now everyone’s staring at his or her plate wishing he’d just shut the hell up.

Facebook is a lot like those holiday get-togethers, only it’s year-round: great place to catch up with loved ones (and the merely liked ones), but also a great platform for the splenetic venting of the politically and otherwise deranged.

You have a choice at both the holiday table and on Facebook: Squelch your political opinions for the sake of group harmony, or speak your mind. And while I certainly admire the latter, I have to admit that I generally choose the former.

I may have inspired some squelching myself: I’ve posted plenty of political stuff on Facebook over the years that generated heated debates in the replies — debates I didn’t necessarily want on my timeline.

For a while I just stopped posting anything remotely political. But then I came up with an alternative approach that allows me to express myself politically while avoiding unnecessary brouhahas. 

Target your posts

The key is to take advantage of an old Facebook feature: the Friends list. I created one called Politics and populated it with like-minded friends with whom I did want to share political stuff. Then, when I wanted to post something political, I specified that it should be seen only by that list. Here’s how you can do the same thing:

In your Web browser, go to Facebook, and scroll down the list of sections to the left of your newsfeed until you see the Friends heading. Hover the cursor over that section’s name, then click on More.

Facebook’s list-management screen.

On the next screen, click on the Create List button. Type in a name — Politics, say — then move down to the Members box. Type in a letter, and friends whose names match it will appear. You can then add people, one by one.

Adding members to your Facebook Friends list.

Once you’ve created a list, you can add (or subtract) members from it by clicking the name of the list in the Friends section to the left of your feed, clicking the Manage List link in the upper right corner, then selecting Edit List from the drop-down. That’ll take you to a box showing you the friends in that list. You can deselect those you want to remove by clicking on their profile pictures, or add new members by entering their names in the box at the top.

Once you’ve created your list, you can post to it (and it alone) by creating a new post, then selecting your list from the Friends drop-down in the lower right corner of the editing window.

Select your list from the Friends drop-down.

Now, this approach could be construed as political cowardice. My Facebook hero in this regard is my older brother, who directly engages those he disagrees with (deranged and otherwise), calmly and dispassionately providing links to facts that support an alternate view. I admire it, but I don’t emulate it. Instead, I hide in my little self-created ghetto of the like-minded. It might not be good for our democracy, but it does wonders for my sanity.

Dan Miller is an editor at Yahoo Tech. He doesn’t post anything political on Twitter.

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