How To Handle Your Racist Family On Facebook
The Debrief: Here's how to deal when a random family member's off-colour social media postings leave a lot to be desired
Mark Zuckerberg recently claimed that 1 in 7 people on the planet use Facebook and, unfortunately, that includes your bigoted uncle Brian and dodgy aunty Deb. Being up close and personal with your extended family’s endless stream of Minion memes and posh coffee photos is fairly tiresome but, as many of us are now discovering, it can get a lot worse.
Facebook seems to have acted like a siren call to all the dodgy racists in my extended family. All the ex-wives of my third cousins are now flooding my feed with links to Ban The Burka and Britain First, as if I was in any danger of forgetting that the UK is full of dangerous extremists (and no, Uncle Nick, I’m not talking about 'The Islamists' here). I’ve spent the past three years torn between deleting them all and facing the consequences at a yet-unplanned family reunion. Or just spamming their walls with a tirade against the kind of misguided, vile hatred they seem to be cultivating as their personal brand.
One of the many problems is that it can start to feel like you are the only person in their life who doesn’t agree with them. Which makes sense. We don’t choose our family, but we do choose our friends and the last election highlighted exactly how quickly many of us have created a social media echo chamber.
So if you decide to challenge a family member whose social media postings leave a lot to be desired, here are a couple of ways you can approach them:
Assume the best
It’s not always clear where posts are coming from or what the intention is behind them. Britain First has proved to be exceptionally good at creating viral content that isn’t obviously connected to their right-wing agenda. So rather than steam in with a well-placed 'why the hell are you sharing this crap,' try to approach the post with the assumption that while the sharer may agree with its sentiment (pedos are bad, dogs are good, etc) they’re not necessarily endorsing the page itself.
If you can, find something to agree with in the post before you attack the message: 'Totally agree that we need to do something about the refugee crisis... but maybe it should be more along the lines of helping vulnerable people than building a massive fence? IDK LOL, but here’s a link to a petition and another link to a donations site – see you at Christmas!' Speaking of which...
Keep it light-hearted
By keeping your tone light-hearted and informal you can dodge accusations that you’re taking things too seriously while reducing their ability to come back at you with 1,000 frantically typed words about 'swarms of migrants.' It’s banal but 'LOL would rather see Starbucks pay their taxes than people dying on the streets tho ;) ;) :p' has generally proved to be more effective for me than flooding a family member’s status with moral outrage.
Occasionally a family member will go on a spree of sharing #AllLivesMatter posts and complaining about not being able to speak English in their own country, clearly unwilling to have a serious discussion about the issues and just looking to spread hate. At this point the best response tends to be: 'I used to think this too but then I saw this amazing infographic and petition and article and feed and Twitter account and storify and another petition here and now I don’t actually think we should fill the North Sea with laser shooting sharks.' Rinse and repeat on every link they share for the next two weeks.
As a final option, when all else fails...
Burn it down
When it becomes clear that the family member you’re dealing with is just really invested in spewing hatred, well... there’s nothing wrong with evening the playing field. As this article in Jezebel shows: sometimes it is worth using your inside knowledge to point out the hypocrisies in an argument. Maybe just give your mum a heads up first, before you start breathing fire across her ex-cousin’s second wife’s Facebook wall.
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