Like most guys past our prime, when I play hoops I allow myself to believe I'm moving and shooting at some semblance of professional skill, not all that different from my favorite NBA stars. And though I am clearly deluding myself, no one is hurt for having seen me spaz out on an alley-oop gone horribly wrong.
Similarly, Facebook and Twitter have become the pickup basketball games of politics. People on social media seem to think they are debating issues like their favorite TV and radio pundits. Yet we are as far from pros at how we play politics as we are at sports. You may think your testy bickering and schoolyard name-calling resemble the witty political banter of a “Real Time with Bill Maher” panel, when in fact you're exhibiting all the intellect of a “Real Housewives” catfight.
Here are eight of the most amateur moves that bad Facebook pundits make. If you're guilty of more than two of these a week, you really should avoid political threads and stick to posts about your favorite pets and meals.
1) Ad Hominem Attacks. As most mature adults know, calling your ideological counterpart "stupid," "moron," "idiot," or an "a-hole" is not political discourse, it’s just spewing rage. But Facebook politics can take immaturity to a whole new stratosphere. Words like "libtard," “conserviturd” and "Obumhole" (and the dozens of dirtier variations) only prove that you are a biased hater. Even professional venom spewers like husband and wife TV pundits James Carville and Mary Matalin don't go there on their worst day (which seems to be every day).
I mean, really: Libtard? Why would anyone with an iota of sensitivity want to use the root of the word "retard" as a persuasive linguistic tool?
Similarly, terms like Faux News or MSLSD show all the wit of a “girl from Nantucket” limerick. If you like to use the Rush Limbaugh-inspired pejorative "low-information voter," let me inform you that the term harkens back to the Jim Crow literacy tests bigots once used to prove that minorities were too dumb to vote. With all due respect to your superior news gathering skills, in America no one is considered too uniformed to vote. Besides, listening to hours of Rush everyday doesn’t mean you're a high-information voter. It means either you’re unemployed or your car doesn’t have FM radio.
And if you are still invoking the names Palin, Rumsfeld, Alinsky, or Lewinsky in any context, your political wisdom is stuck on Throwback Thursday.
2) Ganging Up On The Lone Dissenter. It amazes me how people who are probably polite and considerate in real life will gladly turn a Facebook thread into Lord of the Flies. FB pundits love to gang up on the lone voice of reason and turn her into the thread’s pariah. Then they talk about the dissenter in the third person (as if behind her back), freely mocking her while touting their own superior intellect in a sad attempt to shore up their shared warped opinions. Their logic being, "My comment got 4 likes and hers only got 2, so I must be right!"
3) Bomb Throwing. This is the art of posting a blatantly bigoted blog link or photo meme and letting mob mentality run wild underneath. The original poster knows that the incendiary blog headline (which is usually at odds with the actual facts) will elicit a venomous free-for-all from her like-minded FB friends, so she posts it and then sits back to watch the sparks fly. The logic of the Torch Thrower is, "Hey, I didn't say it – I'm just re-posting it to see what people think. So don't blame me if it's racist/sexist/mean-spirited/an outright lie."
Sorry, but posting something means you are endorsing its content (unless you explicitly state otherwise). And that means everything in the article. So if the body of the article claims that a potential candidate is a cross-dressing child abuser or Eleanor Roosevelt was a slave-owning Nazi spy, you won't get off the hook by saying that you only skimmed the first two paragraphs.
4) Fact Unchecking. This is where one poster offers up an article or graph to prove their point, and their counterpart dismisses the indisputable facts in the article because it appeared in the NY Times, The Washington Post, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, NPR, or any other Pulitzer Prize or Peabody Award winning news outlet that they believe to be a liberally-biased propaganda rag. Yes, liberals can be just as guilty of Fact Unchecking when the source is FOX News. However, FOX News is the only major media outlet that liberals summarily reject, while conservatives will swat down every single English speaking news source that doesn't parrot the Tea Party line. But if the article in question is quoting hard, incontrovertible facts, you can't simply dismiss it as rubbish because you don't like the messenger. I mean, you can – but you don't get to win the debate that way, no matter how many of your partisan cohorts parrot your dissent.
On the other hand, just because you found something in print in some dark corner of the web doesn't make it true, especially if your "incontrovertible proof" comes from a hack basement blogger or a website dedicated to a highly partisan point of view. Major blog news sites like The Huffington Post, The Drudge Report and Daily Kos can be reliable sources of information, but "PatriotsAgainstLiberalVomit.net" is generally not.
5) Argument By Graphics. It's easy to Share the latest colorful graphic about some poor schnook who accidentally discharged his Glock in his pants or about CEO pay versus the minimum wage, but are you really saying anything? We get it – guns go off when they shouldn't and corporate executives earn more than they should. You aren't adding to the well of knowledge with cartoons or visual statistics that prove an already accepted point.
And if you’re into posting graphics of pithy historical quotes, save us some bandwidth and just retype it yourself. I don’t need a portrait of FDR to figure out that the words between the quote marks came from him.
6) Broken Record Syndrome. Arguments that harken back to any event prior to 2008 indicate you are stuck in a time loop of history. Anything pertaining to Dick Cheney's war crimes, the Florida recount, Bill Clinton's sex life, or The Rose Law Firm, should not appear in your 2014 timeline. Even dropping early Obama era catch-lines like Fast and Furious, Bridgegate, or Benghazi can come off like Cousin Brucie playing the golden oldies. Yes, bad thinks happen in the world. But we should deal with them and move on, not replay them on Facebook with the same frequency that "The Big Bang Theory" runs on cable.
Similarly, dropping phrases like "without a single Republican vote" or "lying us into war" suggest you are not so much debating as brooding.
7) Self-declared Victory. These are the folks who summarily declare they have won an argument simply because the other person didn't respond to their last comment quickly enough. News to you: some people can't sit at their keyboard and bicker with you 24/7. They have this thing called "a life" that occasionally interferes. So if someone didn't reply to your last post in 2 minutes (or an hour...or a day), that doesn't mean you out-debated them and should do a verbal end-zone dance. It means they have better things to do than argue with an irrational total stranger, or they think your last rambling, 12 paragraph comment dissecting their point was so incoherent that it wasn't worthy of a response.
8) Harping. Your social media presence should reflect your daily life, and life is full of kittens and kisses and cute kids and Sopranos reruns – the wonderful things that happen to real people who don't live in Washington, D.C.
If more than half of your Facebook posts are about how President Obama or The Koch Brothers are destroying the very fabric of your world, your world needs a few shots of tequila...and maybe some good old-fashioned psychotherapy.