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How to have intellectual conversations on Facebook

Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is possible to have intellectual conversations on Facebook. In fact, I think itís imperative that we do.

The reason: while social media has reunited old friends and provides a limitless variety of amusement, itís also been used to spread conspiracy theories and fake news through partisan echo chambers on both ends of the political spectrum.

Itís also imperative that we do because thatís where people are these days.

The old venues for important conversations are gone. People donít really discuss politics over dinner anymore because they hardly sit down and have dinner together anymore.

And Facebook is what we make of it. If you only use it to post silly memes and pictures of your dinner, then thatís what it is.

If you use it to have meaningful conversations about important topics, then thatís what it is. Itís time to raise the intellectual bar of conversation on Facebook.

Hereís how.

Use social media to discuss serious topics more often: politics, religion, philosophy, science, history, etc. It doesnít have to be all the time.

Set a goal to make at least one out of every three posts to be about something important to our democracy. And in those instances, try to adhere to the remaining guidelines.

Real life is every bit as important as grades.

That means providing thoughtful responses, like you were writing a letter in 1982 with your whole brain, full attention, and both hands, as opposed to writing a text message in 2018 with one thumb while driving a car.

The best way to do that is to make your comments on your computer instead of your smartphone.

Itís difficult enough to write complete sentences, let alone complete thoughts, on a tiny screen using only your thumbs.

So, most people wonít do it. If that means you canít respond until you get home tonight, so be it.

Be prepared to shock some people whoíve never seen a three-paragraph comment on a Facebook post. Donít be dissuaded.

Injecting a little intellectual rigour into a place devoid of it is going to raise some eyebrows.

As soon as you switch to sarcasm or humour, the serious conversation is over, because everyone else will switch too.

Think of it like you would in a debate. If someone is using an unsubstantiated ďfactĒ or poor logic in their argument, challenge it.

Think of this as an exercise in learning what other people believe and why, and express what you believe and why.

If, at the end of that, one of you has modified your position, thatís good.

However, the goal should not be to force your way of thinking on others in your discussion, and you shouldnít feel unsuccessful if that doesnít happen.

Youíve learnt something about each other in the process. And thatís success, too.

Youíre not admitting defeat.

Youíre demonstrating that youíre smart enough to modify your position when presented with compelling evidence.

Itís precisely the people who are unwilling to let compelling evidence alter their opinion, who are the problem. Donít be one of them.

Courageously admit when youíve changed your mind. It will encourage others to be willing to do the same.

Instead of just stating your position the whole time, be open to asking questions. This helps you understand the other side more and lets them feel heard.

Your tenacity should be like that of a journalist whoís interviewing an evasive politician.

If you wouldnít be proud to put your name on them as if you wrote or produced them, then donít share.

In a way, you are the Ďauthorí when youíre posting them on your wall for all to see.

I canít tell you how many fake news articles Iíve challenged people for posting on their wall, only to have them admit that, ďOh, I didnít really read it.Ē

And guess what, neither did the other 27 people who ďlikedĒ it, commented on it, and shared it.

The echo chamber gets its resonance from our willingness to share headlines instead of articles weíve actually read.

Note your learning points or direct people to the specific part of it that you felt most strongly about.

Donít just dump a link to a 3,000-word article or one-hour video in the thread and walk away. Say something about it.

Donít just state your opinion.

Defend it. Explain it. Justify it with facts and logic.

And donít get upset if someone challenges you on part (or all) of your argument. Thatís how conversations work.

Donít take disagreement with your argument or ideas as personal attack on your integrity.

People deserve to be treated with civility and respect. Ideas do not.

Attack the ideas you disagree with, not the people.

There are plenty of online courses on how to present logical arguments, backed with reasoning and facts. So, do check them out.

I welcome all comments on this list, whether they are suggestions to be added, deleted, edited, or ignored. Letís make a difference in how we converse with each other in the age of social media.

- Paul Smith is one of the worldís leading experts on business storytelling. Heís a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books: Lead with a Story, Sell with a Story, and Parenting with a Story. To share your thoughts with Paul, send us an email at

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