For the next little while, many of us will be staying at home a lot more than usual. More time at home often means more time on social media. And, if you’re like me, that means more debates in Facebook comment sections about abortion.
Or… maybe not. Maybe you think getting into online debates is a fruitless endeavour. For a while, I did too. After all, the majority of the examples we see on social media aren’t really debates at all, but rather strangers spewing personal attacks at one another (and laugh-reacting each other’s comments when they lack substantive arguments). We can all agree spats like these have little value.
However, my thinking about online debates changed when I realized that they are not just limited to you and your online opponent(s). Rather, they quite often have tens, if not hundreds, of other users watching without interacting. And since this silent audience is not being directly challenged in the conversation, they’re likely in a much better mindset to evaluate your arguments thoughtfully. This means that even if you don’t change the mind of the person you’re directly engaging, you have the potential to convert dozens of others.
Now of course, the reverse side to this is that you also have the potential to damage many people’s views on your position. When it comes to talking about abortion, this should not be taken lightly. Real lives hang in the balance and every online interaction could be impacting the abortion decision of dozens of people.
In short, your social media debates about abortion are, in fact, important, so it’s important you do them right.
Now, what does that mean? First and foremost, it means brushing up on your pro-life conversation skills. CCBR already has a plethora of incredible resources ready to access, including the Pro-Life Study Series (which is being facilitated online for a limited time at a discounted price), the Pro-Life Classroom section of our website and frequent livestreams and other online events which you can hear about by following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Basically, CCBR has made it so that you have no excuses not to get trained up!
But before you do that, there’s something else you need to consider in online debates that is way too easy to overlook: your conduct.
Let’s be honest: social media is our happy place. We’re typically using it to unwind, and so we’re not always too concerned about making ourselves look polite and professional. As a result, it can be quite easy to let the worst version of ourselves come out when talking about sensitive issues: the cynical, sarcastic, degrading and uncaring version of ourselves.
I’ll be the first to admit that this version of me comes out way too often online. So often I’ll see comments featuring terrible pro-choice arguments or spouting absolutely absurd claims about pro-lifers. And what’s worse, they have a ton of likes!!! Seriously, do people not recognize how false and illogical these posts are? In the midst of my frustration, I often resort to impulsively banging out a comment with the sole purpose of asserting my intellectual superiority and revealing the utter buffoonery of the other person’s argument.
These types of harsh, sarcastic comments are cathartic for me. Therapeutic, even. But they’re also selfish and harmful.
In the moment I write them, I’m totally blind to the fact that this same type of comment, when directed to me, has never once changed my mind. Any reasonable point I might make while lashing out like this is lost, because no one wants to listen to someone who doesn’t respect them.
If you see yourself in any of this, I beg you: please change your online conduct! Not only is it not productive in the slightest, but for the tens or hundreds of people who read your comments, it can seriously taint their view of the pro-life movement and, by proxy, the pro-life worldview itself. We need to treat the people we debate online with respect and compassion, even if we don’t want to and even if they treat us poorly. Lives are on the line, and charitable behaviour yields the greatest likelihood of changing minds and, thus, saving those lives.
So go out and have fun exercising those apologetic muscles on your preferred social media platform. Just do so responsibly.